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Less than two thirds of UK children are in a traditional" family at age 5"

Date:22 OCT 2008

WED 22/10/2008 - Less than two thirds of UK children are living with their married natural parents when they enter school, a study has found.

Researchers from the Institute of Education, University of London 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 five.

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 five.

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 five.

The lone motherhood rates were, however, considerably higher for women who gave birth in the teenage years and for certain ethnic groups, say the researchers. Almost half (48%) of the children born to teenage and black Caribbean mothers were in lone mother families at age five. 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 five 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.

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".