Family instability throughout childhood: new estimates from the British Household Panel Survey and Understanding Society

Publication type

Conference Paper


Mike Brewer and Alita Nandi

Publication date


Estimates of the stock of children in different family types exist, but
these necessarily understate the proportion of children that will ever
spend time living in particular family types during childhood. Such
estimates also tell us nothing about instability in family
circumstances, something which has been shown to be harmful for children
but shown in the US to be distributed in a way which reinforces
patterns of inter-generational transmission of disadvantage. Using
Understanding Society we document the extent of, and the inequalities
in, the experience of different family situations for children born in
the UK in the 1980s through to early 2000s. We show that children born
to younger mothers spent considerably more of childhood, on average,
living without one of their birth parents, and experienced more
instability in family circumstances, than children born to older
mothers. We also show how these estimates are affected by the
assumptions made about the nature of sample attrition.


Lone Parents, Social Change, Young People and Family Formation And Dissolution