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It used to be the received wisdom that the Irish man would not leave the family nest until middle age and then only when dragged kicking and screaming by his bride to theirnew home. Those days, it seems, have not altogether deserted us, although today his affection for his mammy may not be as responsible for the delayed departure as escalating property prices.

In thesix years between 1996 and 2002 the number of “children” in their twenties living with both parents has risen by some 13.7 per cent, and in their thirties, by 39 per cent. Little wonder then theperhaps apocryphal tales of desperate parents willing to dig deep to subsidise that first house.

Important changes in the way we lead our lives, and hence relate to each other, are reflected once againin the 2002 Census of Population. It provides, for example, glimpses into the weakening of traditional marriage, with figures for cohabitation up by a third since the last census, while the number oflone-parent families has risen by a fifth last year. These figures clearly reflect the simultaneous decline in the authority of church teaching and the rise in broken marriages.

Specific economicpressures unique to the Irish economy may be having particularly dramatic effects. The pressures on young couples of wanting to get a foot on the housing ladder and then requiring two incomes to pay amortgage seem to have reinforced the trend of career women postponing having children. The average number of children per family has fallen from 2.2 to 1.8 in the last 20 years, although the birth rateamong immigrants may affect the figures in the next census.

Such underlying trends can be seen clearly in the disparity between urban and rural average household numbers and have importantlong-term implications for social policy. Not least among the elderly. The census confirms the increasing numbers living alone, a major care challenge for this ageing society.

The Irish Times, August...