Less than two thirds of five-year-olds living with married natural parents

17 October 2008

Less than two thirds of UK children are living with their married natural parents when they enter school, a study has found.

Embargoed until 00:01hrs, Friday, October 17

Less than two thirds of UK children are living with their married natural parents when they enter school, a study has found.

Researchers who have been tracking more than 15,000 children born in the first two years of the new millennium have established that only 63 per cent of them were in “traditional” family groups at age 5.

They also found that the proportion of children living with both natural parents – whether married or not – had fallen from 86 per cent to 77 per cent since they were first surveyed at the age of nine months. Most of this decline was due to a sharp fall in the proportion of children living with cohabiting natural parents – down from 24 per cent at nine months to 14 per cent at age 5.

Some natural fathers bucked this trend by moving in with a mother and child they had been living apart from at the time of the first survey. Nevertheless, the proportion of children in lone mother families increased from 14 per cent at nine months to 17 per cent at age 5.

The lone motherhood rates were, however, considerably higher for women who gave birth in the teenage years and for certain ethnic groups, say researchers at the Institute of Education, University of London. Almost half (48%) of the children born to teenage and black Caribbean mothers were in lone mother families at age 5. On the other hand, rates of lone parenthood were very small among some other ethnic groups, for example Bangladeshi (4%) and Indian (6%) families.

Thirty-five per cent of children whose mothers were 18 to 24 at the time of the age 5 survey were living with both natural parents, compared to 85 per cent of children born to mothers over 30.

Almost four in ten children with the youngest mothers had also experienced change to their family situation, such as the departure or arrival of a father-figure, since the age of nine months. Most of the families in the Millennium Cohort Study had, however, proved to be stable. Only one in seven children was found to be living in a different family type at five years than at nine months.

The researchers, who are based at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, say their findings lend support for policies designed to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate. Professor Shirley Dex, a member of the research team, says: “This survey and other research show that lone mother families have a high risk of poverty. The experience of living apart from natural fathers can also be associated with other negative outcomes for children.

“As these experiences are particularly concentrated among children of young mothers, these findings provide justification for policies to improve alternatives to early motherhood for the least-educated young women. They also imply that young single mothers, who are still least likely to be employed, may benefit from further targeted support from government.”

The findings are presented in a report to be published today by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Millennium Cohort Study Third Survey: A User’s Guide to Initial Findings. The report can be downloaded from the Centre’s website www.cls.ioe.ac.uk from 9am today (October 17).

Further information:

David Budge

(off) 020 7911 5349
(mob) 07881 415362

Editors’ footnotes:

1. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an Economic and Social Research Council Resource Centre and is devoted to the collection, management and analysis of large-scale longitudinal data. The Centre houses three internationally-renowned birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The MCS 3 survey was co-funded by government departments in the four UK countries.

2. The third survey of the UK-wide Millennium Cohort Study took place, mostly in 2006, when the children had reached age 5. It involved 15,246 families and 15,460 children because some families had either twins or triplets. Previous surveys of the families had taken place when the children were aged 9 months, in 2001-2, and when they were three years old, mostly during 2004. The study was designed to over-sample families living in electoral wards with high child poverty rates, and in areas of high ethnic minority concentration in England.

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