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We provide expert advice, practical support and campaign for single parents

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Statistics

Gingerbread works to tackle the stigma around single parents by dispelling myths and labels.

Here are the facts about single parents

  • Just over a quarter (26 per cent) of households with dependent children are single parent families (1), and there are 2 million single parents in Britain today. (2) This figure has remained consistent since the mid-1990’s
  • Less than 2 per cent of single parents are teenagers (3)
  • The median age of single parents is 38.1 (4)
  • Around half of single parents had their children within marriage – 49 per cent are separated from marriage, divorced or widowed (5)
  • 63.4 per cent of single parents are in work, up 19.6 percentage points since 1996 (6)
  • The employment rate for single parents varies depending on the age of their youngest child. Once their children are 12 or over, single parents’ employment rate is similar to, or higher than, the employment rate for mothers in couples (71 per cent of single parents whose child is 11-15 are in work) (7)

Who are single parents?

  • There are 3 million children living in a single parent household (23% per cent of all dependent children) (8)
  • Around 8 per cent of single parents (186,000) are fathers (9)
  • The average duration of single parenthood is around 5 years (10)
  • Only 6.5 per cent of all births are registered alone, and 10 per cent are registered to two parents who live apart (11)
  • Single fathers are more likely to be widowed than single mothers (12 per cent of single fathers are widowed, compared with 5 per cent of single mothers), and their children tend to be older (12)
  • Just under half of couples divorcing in 2009 had at least one child aged under 16. Over a fifth (21 per cent) of the children in 2009 were under five and 63 per cent were under eleven (13)

The proportion of single parent families has increased since the 1970s, but it hasn’t changed much in the last ten years

  • In 1971 just 8 per cent of families with children were single parent families (14)
  • In 1998 24 per cent of families with children were single parent families (15)
  • In 2011 26 per cent of families with children were single parent families (16)

Single parent families and poverty

  • Children in single parent families are nearly twice as likely as children in couple families to live in relative poverty. Over four in every 10 (42 per cent) children in single parent families are poor, compared to just over two in 10 (23 per cent) of children in couple families (17)
  • Paid work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty for single parent families; the poverty rate for children in single parent families where the parent works part-time is 30 per cent, and 22 per cent where the parent works full-time (18).
  • The median weekly income for working single parent families doing 16 hours a week or more is £337, compared with £491 for couple families with one worker and £700 where both parents work (19)
  • 43 per cent of single parents are social housing tenants compared to 12 per cent of couples (20)
  • 71 per cent of all single parent renters receive housing benefit compared to 25 per cent of all couple renters (21)
  • Single parent households are the most likely to be in arrears on one or more household bills, mortgage or nonmortgage borrowing commitment (31 per cent) (22)
  • 38 per cent of single parents said that money always runs out before the end of the week/month compared to 19 per cent of couples (23)
  • 63 per cent of single parents have no savings compared to 34 per cent of couples (24)

Work and childcare

  • Where single parents are not working, this is often because there are health issues that make work difficult: 33 per cent of unemployed single parents have a disability or longstanding illness (25) and 34 per cent have a child with a disability (26)
  • Over half of single parents are in work (59.2 per cent), up 14.5 percentage points since 1997. In the same period, the employment rate of mothers in couples has risen three percentage points to 71 per cent (27)
  • Single parents rely heavily on informal childcare. Of those using childcare, 46 per cent said it was informal. (28) For single parents working 16 hours a week or more 34 per cent had a childcare arrangement with the child’s grandparents, and 17 per cent had an arrangement with their ex-partner (29)
  • Working single parents paying for childcare are much more likely than working couples paying for childcare to find it difficult to meet childcare costs (32% compared to 22% of couples where one partner is in work, and 20% of couples where both work) (30)

Child maintenance

  • Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  • For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)
  • The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33) Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)
  • Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

Family life

  • At least 9 per cent of single parents share the care of their child equally, or nearly equally, with the other parent (36)
  • The majority of children have face to face contact with their other parent. 71 per cent of resident parents said that their child had direct contact with the other parent (37)
  • 65 per cent of those with contact said this included overnight stays, usually at least monthly (38)
  • Only 20 per cent of all resident parents say that their child has no contact with their other parent (39). Of these, 63 per cent said there had been no contact since the parental relationship ended (40)
  • Parental separation by itself is not considered predictive of poor outcomes in children (41) Parental conflict has been identified as a key mediating variable in producing negative outcomes in children. A comparison between couple families experiencing high levels of conflict with single parent families found that children fared less well in conflicted couple families, demonstrating that family functioning has a greater impact than family structure in contributing to child outcomes (42)
  • Parental separation and the resulting single parent status often leads to financial hardship. That resulting poverty may be a significant factor in explaining poorer child outcomes rather than family structure (43)

References 

    1. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    2. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    3. Figure produced for Gingerbread by the Fertility and Family Analysis Unit, Office of National Statistic and derived from the Annual Population Survey (APS), (Labour Force Survey plus boost), 2009 data
    4. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    5. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    6. Working and Workless Households, 2014, Table P. Office for National Statistics, October 2014
    7. Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and children study (FACS), Table 3.2. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
    8. Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2009/10, Table 4.1ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2011
    9. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    10. Leaving Lone Parenthood: Analysis of the repartnering patterns of lone mothers in the U.K. Skew, A., Berrington, A., Falkingham, J. 2008, on data from 2005
    11. Derived from Households and Families, Social Trends 41, Table 6 & 7. ONS, 2011. Data from 2009
    12. Analysis of Labour Force Survey data from June 2006 produced for Gingerbread by ONS
    13. Divorces in England and Wales 2009. ONS Statistical Bulletin, February 2011
    14. General Household Survey 2007, Table 3.6. ONS, 2009
    15. General Lifestyle Survey, 2009, Table 3.6. ONS, 2011
    16. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    17. Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13,Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2014
    18. Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13,Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2014
    19. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 6.3. DWP, 2010
    20. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 9.1. DWP, 2010 
    21. English Housing Survey, Household Report 2009 – 10, Table 3.6. Department for Communities and Local Government, 2011
    22. Wealth in Great Britain. Main Results from the Wealth and Assets Survey 2006/08, p.108. ONS, 2009
    23. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 8.8. DWP, 2010 
    24. Family Resource Survey UK, 2008-2009, Table 4.10. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
    25. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 3.2. DWP, 2010
    26. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 12.5. DWP, 2010
    27. Working and Workless Households, 2012, Table P. ONS Statistical Bulletin, August 2012
    28. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.5. DWP, 2010
    29. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.1. DWP, 2010
    30. Childcare and early years survey of parents 2009, p.83. NatCen/Department for Education, 2010. Research Report DFE-RR054
    31. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.1. DWP, 2010
    32. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.4b. DWP, 2010
    33. Child Support Agency national statistics, June 2011. CMEC/DWP, 2011
    34. Parliamentary Question, Hansard 24/03/2011, col 1242W
    35. PQ response to Karen Buck, March 2011, Letter from Stephen Geraghty (CMEC), 17/3/11 Col 566W
    36. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
    37. I’m not saying it was easy...Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    38. I’m not saying it was easy...Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    39. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
    40. I’m not saying it was easy . . . Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    41. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
    42. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
    43. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009