The changing demography of lone parenthood in the UK

Publication type

Research Paper


Ann Berrington

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This paper provides an overview of trends over the past 30 years in the number and characteristics of lone parents, with particular focus on the changing demographic processes associated with becoming a lone parent and changing risk factors for poor health. Data from repeated rounds of the General Household Survey - from 1980 to 2009 - are used to track changes over time in the characteristics of current lone mothers, including whether they had ever been married or had cohabited previously. Event history techniques are applied to retrospective partnership and fertility histories to calculate the likelihood of experiencing partnership dissolution and of experiencing repartnering for different partnership cohorts. These findings are supported by additional analyses of wave 1 (2009/10) data from Understanding Society. Increases, e.g. in the 1980s, in the likelihood of becoming a lone mother, either through experiencing a birth prior to any coresidential partnership, or through the experience of partnership dissolution may have slowed. Whilst we cannot know whether this is a temporary pause before a further upward trend, this recent stabilisation may help explain why growth in the aggregate number of lone parents appears to have slowed. Lone parents continue to face material inequalities e.g. in terms of employment and housing, and the gap between couple mothers and lone parents in terms of smoking behaviour has increased over the past few decades. Policies aiming to improve the wellbeing of lone mothers and their children need to take account of inter-relationships between these material and behavioural risk factors.




Lone Parents, Demography, Family Formation And Dissolution and Health