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This story summarises the distribution of family types (married couples, cohabiting couples and lone parents with/without dependent children) within England and Wales and the interaction with family size (number of dependent children). Variations in family size and type by country of birth are also highlighted.
The proportion of families that were married couples (both with and without dependent children) declined from 70% in 2001 to 65% in 2011; cohabiting couples and lone parent families increased over the same period.
In 2011, the majority (65%) of families1 were couples who were married (including civil partnered), with or without dependent children2. Married couple families including dependent children accounted for 37% of all married couple families, and almost one in four families overall (24%) (Figure 1). Cohabiting couples accounted for 17% of all families, with 38% of these including dependent children. Lone parents accounted for 18% of all families in England and Wales, with two out of three (67%) of these families including dependent children. The proportion of families that were married couples (both with and without dependent children) declined from 70% in 2001 to 65% in 2011; the proportion of cohabiting couples and lone parent families increased over the same period.
Of the 15.8 million families in England and Wales in 2011, the majority (57% or 9.0 million) did not include dependent children; 43% (6.8 million) included one or more dependent children. The majority (56%) of all families with dependent children were married couple families. The proportion of families with dependent children who were married couples was lower than that of all families, as older couples are more likely to be married than cohabiting. Cohabiting couple families accounted for 15% of families with dependent children, while the remaining 29% were lone parent families.
Previous ONS research has noted that 11% (544,000) of couple families with dependent children were stepfamilies in 2011. This was a decrease in both number and percentage from 2001, when stepfamilies accounted for 13% (631,000) of couple families with dependent children. While the number of stepfamilies with dependent children decreased by 14% (from 631,000 to 544,000), the number of stepfamilies with only non-dependent children increased by 3.3% (Figure 3). The increase in stepfamilies with non-dependent children is a result of the increase of 22% (24,500) in married couples with non dependent children only. This relates to increasing numbers of young adults living with parents.
While 11% of couple families with dependent children were stepfamilies in 2011, this varied by partnership status: 9% of married couple families with dependent children were stepfamilies, while 20% of cohabiting couple families with dependent children were stepfamilies. There may be a higher proportion of stepfamilies in cohabiting couples as people who have been divorced or formerly in a cohabiting relationship may choose to form a cohabiting stepfamily rather than marry.
Populations with both an early arrival profile and older age structure are likely to have higher proportions of couple families and lower numbers of dependent children in families, as many will have completed childbearing and have adult children who have left the family home. For example, of the Irish-born population, 43% were aged 65 or over, whereas this age group accounted for 16% of the England and Wales population as a whole; a large proportion (38%) of the Irish-born population arrived before 1961. By contrast, those populations with a more recent arrival profile and younger age structure such as the Somali-born population are more likely to have higher numbers of dependent children in the family. The Somali-born population was younger, with 79% aged under 45 in 2011, compared with 58% of the population as a whole; more than half (57%) of the Somali-born population in 2011 had arrived since 2001, with one in four having arrived between 2001 and 2003.
The most common family types differ by the Family Reference Person's (FRP)1 country of birth (Table 1). Married couple families2 were the majority for families with a FRP born in all regional country of birth groups. Families with a FRP born in the Middle East and Asia had the highest proportion of married couple families (79%) and the lowest proportion of cohabiting couple families (6%); this may be the result of cultural attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation. Conversely, families with a FRP born in an EU Accession country3 had the lowest proportion of married couple families (53%) and the highest proportions of cohabiting couple families (30%); this may also relate to cultural factors and the younger age structure of the Accession born population.
Figure 5 shows the family type distributions for selected countries of birth, with UK born and non-UK born for comparison. Countries included are those with the highest and lowest proportions of each family type (where individual country data are available in a published table), demonstrating the diversity in family types. High proportions of married couple families were seen in families with FRPs born in India (85%), Sri Lanka (84%), Afghanistan (83%), Pakistan (80%), Bangladesh and Kenya (both 79%); this is likely to reflect the cultural attitudes to family structures and marriage in these communities.
Differences may relate to varying cultural attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation and to age profiles of the populations from different countries of birth. For example, the Jamaican-born population had an older age structure as migration from Jamaica began in the 1960s. Families with a Jamaican-born FRP may therefore have included older dependent children and have had more time for couples to break up and form new stepfamilies. High proportions of stepfamilies may also result partly from high proportions of lone parent families, as this leads to a greater potential for stepfamily formation: for example, 44% of families with a Jamaican-born FRP were lone parent families in 2011. 781b155fdc