family dinner

In addition to family structure and economics, the World Family Map project is looking at family “processes” such as adult satisfaction with their family life, agreement or otherwise about household work, family discussions on social issues and family meals. It is also looking at family culture — attitudes towards single motherhood, working mothers, children’s need for a mother and a father, and trust within families.

On these measures the richest societies are not necessarily top performers.

PROCESSES

Family satisfaction. With data from only 8 countries on adult satisfaction, the highest levels were found in South America (74 percent of Chileans) and the lowest in eastern Europe (31 percent of Russians). Western Europe (represented by France, Britain and Ireland) and Asia (the Philippines) fell in the middle, with satisfaction rates between 45 and 66 percent.

It would be interesting to hear from Chilean readers (hello?) why their countrymen are significantly more satisfied with their family life than, say, the Irish (the highest of the three western European countries).

(Dis)agreement over household work. Since household division of labour is a big issue in some countries, this is taken as an indication of general household harmony. Once again, only 8 countries have data available. Here the Philippines scores well, with 88 percent of adults living with a spouse or partner reporting a very low incidence of disagreement. Chile has the next lowest level of disagreement at 80 percent.

(Hey, Chile! What’s your secret?)

However, France Britain and Ireland are doing pretty well with between 71 and 75 percent of couples saying they don’t disagree about home tasks much. Although many mothers in these countries are in the workforce, they tend to have public help such as childcare allowances. The eastern Europeans are doing less well, with Russian and Polish couples most likely to disagree over household work.

Social and political discussions with parents. These correlate with better academic performance and are also a way to transmit values to children. You will have to go to the Family Map report for details about the data on how many 15-year-olds discuss issues with their parents several times a week, but generally scores are on the low side.

Lowest: Japan (13 percent) and South Korea (6 percent).

Highest: Argentina (39 percent) with Brazil, Chile and Peru not too far behind (28, 26 and 25 percent). Argentina was in dire straits economically when the data was collected in 2000, but it seems from the neighbouring countries that parents and kids do talk to each more about socio-political issues. Israel also had a relatively high score at 29 percent — the only surprise here being that it was not higher, given the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In North America the US had the highest rate (22 percent) and Mexico the lowest (7 percent). In Europe , Italy led with 28 percent. Australia and New Zealand families seemed politically apathetic with only 12 percent of teens discussing issues with parents.

Family meals. Research in the US has shown that family meals have many beneficial effects for adolescents — at least where the family is not in conflict. The Family Map presents percentages of 15-year-olds who eat the main meal of the day several times a week with their families. The range is from 62 percent in Israel to 94 percent in Italy (those Italian mamas!) However, the Japanese score highly (85 percent) and also the Peruvians (86 percent). In North America the figure falls to around 70 percent.

By region, the highest rates were in Europe, with France and Russia joining Italy in the 90 percent league. In the UK the figure fell to 65 percent.

I was going to look at family culture as well in this post but it is already too long — so, next week. In the meantime I think today’s post offers more evidence that the Latin cultures (that includes Spanish) have a certain edge over the Anglo and some others when it comes to family life.

I can think of at least one reason, but what do you think?

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet