Beyond Married Families: An Analysis of the Familial Relationships of Babies Born Out of Wedlock

Even though the forms of living as a family have become more diverse, the married family still enjoys the strongest societal protection. In the research project Beyond Married Families  (2015–2017), the changes in family relationships in Finland are mapped from the point of view of different family structures constructed outside of (heterosexual) marriage.

Starting from the 1970s, the family life of Finns has diversified rapidly.  The separation of marriage and parenthood is one indicator of this.  While in the 1970s only one child in ten was born out of wedlock, 55% of firstborn children and 42% of all Finnish children in 2012 were born to unmarried mothers.

The study investigates the family relationships of children born while their mother is not married and the paternity must be confirmed officially. The study aims to gain an understanding of the diversity of family situations that escape official statistics, and to analyse the directions of the development of family structures in Finnish society based on the results.

The study utilises a configurational framework. In it, families are not seen simply as a structure born out of biogenetic descent or marriage; instead, familial relationships are seen as a whole consisting of the lived close relationships that have significance to the everyday lives of people.

The research is implemented in cooperation with the Family Law Services Unit of the City of Helsinki. A doctoral dissertation in the field of sociology, scientific articles in Finnish and in English as well as pro gradu theses will be written during the project. Information about Finnish family structures targeted at the general public is also produced based on the results of the study; it will be published, among other places, in the blog  Perhe, suhteet ja yhteiskunta (Family, relationships and the society) related to the project.

Three different types of material, presented below, will be collected in the project.

Demographic material

  • The material includes background information about the mothers of children born out of wedlock in Helsinki in the autumn of 2015 (N=692).

Questionnaire material

  • The material consists of answers to a questionnaire given to mothers in Helsinki. The questionnaires map, among other things, the respondents’ family situation, the mother’s conception of the people in the child’s family, and the mother’s support network.
  • The Child Welfare Officer from the Family Law Services Unit provided information about the study and distributed the questionnaire to all mothers in Helsinki dealing with investigation of paternity from September to December 2015.

Interview material

  • Approximately 30 qualitative research interviews will be collected during 2016.
  • Early-stage Researcher  Vaula Tuomaala is responsible for collecting the material.

The research is led by Professor (fixed-term), Docent  Anna-Maija Castrén; the research group also includes Early-stage Researcher Vaula Tuomaala, M.Soc.Sc., and  Samuli Neuvonen, an undergraduate student of social sciences.  The study is funded by the Kone Foundation (2015–2017).