Complex households in French Polynesia

In Western societies, the nuclear family model of cohabitation dominates. However, other modes of cohabitation exist, including those called “complex households,” of which a particularly high number are found in French Polynesia.

What does the term “complex households” cover?

With the emergence of the second demographic transition, the concomitant fall in births, and the rise in couple separations, other modes of cohabitation appeared alongside nuclear families (that is, couples with children), including couples without children, single persons, and single-parent families, and a category called “complex households,” which encompasses all other forms of co-residence and is often presented as a vestige of the time prior to the demographic transition. 

The term “complex households” refers to households made up of a family living with single persons, two families living together with or without single persons, three or more families living together with or without single persons, and a group of single persons (two or more) living together. 

What proportion of households in French Polynesia are “complex”?

Complex households represent more than a quarter of households in French Polynesia—6.5 times higher than in metropolitan France.

What explains the overrepresentation of this type of household?

At first sight, it would seem that the over-representation of complex households in Polynesia may be explained by the hypothesis that the region is in a different demographic transition position than metropolitan France. However, the article referenced below explores the reasons for such over-representation of complex households by replacing the “pre-transitional archaicism” hypothesis with the hypothesis that complex households in French Polynesia are a means of adapting to contemporary constraints within the territory. To proceed the authors draw on ethnographic data collected in the 1920s and 1960s and census data collected in the 20th and 21st centuries. In fact, in an archipelagic territory where education and healthcare facilities, together with employment opportunities, are all heavily concentrated in the most central areas, co-residence of a range of family members represents a key resource for circulating and having access to services and jobs.

Source: Celio Sierra-Paycha, Loïc Trabut, Eva Lelièvre et Wilfried Rault, 2022, Les ménages complexes en Polynésie française. Résistance à la nucléarisation ou adaptation à la "modernité" ?, Espace, Populations, Sociétés, (2022/1).

Contact: Celio Sierra-Paycha, Loïc Trabut, Eva Lelièvre and Wilfried Rault

Online: November 2023