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Lone parents with dependent children

Released: 19 January 2012 Download PDF

Figure 1: Lone parents with dependent children, 2001 to 2011

United Kingdom

Figure 1: Lone parents with dependent children, 2001 to 2011
Source: Labour Force Survey - Office for National Statistics

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Figure 1 shows that there were nearly 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children1 in the UK in 2011, and that this number has grown steadily from 1.7 million in 2001. Lone parents with dependent children represented 26 per cent of all families with dependent children in 2011, an increase of two percentage points since 2001.

In 2011, women accounted for 92 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men accounted for 8 per cent of lone parents with dependent children. These percentages have changed little since 2001. Women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when relationships break down, and therefore become lone parents.

The average2 age of lone parents with dependent children in the UK in 2011 was 38.1 years, an increase of 2.3 years since 2001. One reason for this increase could be that women have been postponing their childbearing to older ages in recent years. In 2011, 45 per cent of lone parents were aged 40 or over, and only 2 per cent of lone parents were aged under 20, the same percentage as ten years earlier.

In 2011, 51 per cent of lone parents with dependent children had never been married, an increase from 42 per cent in 2001. One contributory factor to this is the increase in cohabiting couples whose relationships are known to be less stable than married couples3,4 - in 2001, 25 per cent of live births in England and Wales were to cohabiting women, which increased to 31 per cent by 20105.

There are differences in the marital status of male and female lone parents with dependent children; 35 per cent of male lone parents have never been married, compared with 52 per cent of female lone parents. Further, 7 per cent of male lone parents with dependent children are widowed, more than double the percentage of female lone parents.

Figure 2: Lone parents with dependent children by number of dependent children, 2001 to 2011

United Kingdom

Figure 2: Lone parents with dependent children by number of dependent children, 2001 to 2011
Source: Labour Force Survey - Office for National Statistics

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Figure 2 shows that the number of lone parents with two dependent children, or three or more dependent children, remained stable between 2001 and 2011. However, the number of lone parents with one dependent child increased by 18 per cent to 1.1 million in 2011. Over half of all lone parents with dependent children had one dependent child in 2011, compared with 46 per cent of all families with dependent children. Both percentages have increased since 2001. Women have been delaying having babies to older ages; this could be temporarily increasing the proportion of families who have had a first child but not yet had their second. More information about only children can be found in the summary of statistics about only children.

Source: Office for National Statistics

Background notes

  1. Dependent children are those living with their parent(s) and either (a) aged under 16, or (b) aged 16 to 18 in full-time education, excluding children aged 16 to 18 who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household.
  2. In the calculation of average age, the median was used.
  3. Do partnerships last? Comparing marriage and cohabitation using longitudinal census data
  4. Changes in family structure in early childhood in the Millennium Cohort Study
  5. 2010 is the latest period for which these births statistics are available.
  6. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

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