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Family change in the first
five years of life: new
evidence from the UK
Millennium Cohort Study
Lisa Calderwood
CLS is an ESRC Resource Centre based
at the Institute of Education
Motivation: Demographic context
• Family life in the UK has changed significantly over the last
30 years
• Increasingly common for children to live apart from their
natural father – usually either with lone natural mother or
natural mother and step-father
• Proportion of all children living in lone parent families
increased from 9% in 1972 to 24% in 2006 (ONS, 2007)
• 10% of all families with dependent children were stepfamilies in 2005 (ONS, 2007)
Research Questions
• How prevalent are different family types among families
with young children?
• How does this change over the first five years of
children’s lives?
• What are the characteristics of children who are most ‘at
risk’ of experiencing family change?
The Data: UK Millennium Cohort Study
• Longitudinal birth cohort study following over 19,000
children born in the UK in 2000/2001
• Four sweeps so far at 9 months, 3 years, 5 years and 7
years
• Funded by ESRC and UK government departments
• Over sampled places in Scotland, Wales, Northern
Ireland, areas with high child poverty and in England
areas with higher minority ethnic populations.
• One of four British Birth Cohort Studies
Results 1: Family type at 9 months and 5 years
• The vast majority of children were living with both natural
parents – but this proportion was lower at 5 years than 9
months: 77% compared with 86%
• Decline due to a fall in proportion living with cohabiting
natural parents – from 24% to 14%
• Increase in proportion living with natural mother and stepfather – from 0.2% to 4% - and lone natural mothers – from
14% to 17%
• Living with married natural parents was the most common
family situation at both 9 months (61%) and 5 years (63%)
Results 2: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
• Most children (85%) did not experience a change in family
type between 9 months and 5 years
• Children living with lone natural parents at 9 months were
much more likely to experience a change in family type by 5
years than children living with both natural parents at 9
months – 32% compared with 12%
• Children living with cohabiting natural parents at 9 months
were much more likely to experience a change in family
type by 5 years than children living with married natural
parents at 9 months – 24% compared with 8%
Results 3: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
– living with both natural parents at 9 months
Both
natural parents
Both
natural parents
(88%)
Lone
natural mother
(10%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(2%)
Results 4: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
– living with lone natural mother at 9 months
Lone
natural mother
Both
natural parents
(20%)
Lone
natural mother
(68%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(12%)
Results 5: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
– living with married natural parents at 9 months
Married
natural parents
Both
natural parents
(92%)
Lone
natural mother
(7%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(1%)
Results 6: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
– living with married natural parents at 9 months
Cohabiting
natural parents
Both
natural parents
(76%)
Lone
natural mother
(19%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(5%)
Summary so far…..
• For the vast majority of children, family type was stable in
the first five years of life – though this data is likely to
underestimate change as comparing two fixed points in
time
• The minority of children living with a lone natural parent
or cohabiting natural parents at 9 months were much
more ‘at risk’ of experiencing a change in family type in the
first five years of life
• However, family life in the first five years of life is very
different for children of younger mothers
Results 7: Family type at 5 years for children with
mothers under 25
• The most common family type for children with mothers under 25 was
living with a lone natural parent – 48% compared with 17% overall
• Living with a natural mother and step-father was much more
common for children with mothers under 25 – 14% compared with 4%
overall
• Living with both natural parents was much less common for children
with mothers under 25 – 35% compared with 77% overall
• Living with married natural parents was the least common of the
(major) family types at 5 years - 12% compared with 63% overall
Results 8: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
for children with mothers under 25
• A significant proportion of children with mothers under 25 experienced
a change in family type between 9 months and 5 years – 39%
compared with 15% overall
• Children living with both natural parents at 9 months were more likely
to experience change in family type in the first five years if their mother
was under 25 – 43% compared with 12% overall
• Children living with lone natural mothers at 9 months were more likely
to be living with a step-father by 5 years if their mother was under 25 –
18% compared with 12% overall
Results 9: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
for children with mothers under 25 – living with both natural
parents at 9 months
Both
natural parents
Both
natural parents
(57% versus 88%)
Lone
natural mother
(32% versus 10%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(10% versus 2%)
Results 10: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
for children with mothers under 25 – living with lone
natural mother at 9 months
Lone
natural mother
Both
natural parents
(16% versus 20%)
Lone
natural mother
(66% versus 68%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(18% versus 12%)
Results 11: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
for children with mothers under 25 – living with married
natural parents at 9 months
Married
natural parents
Both
natural parents
(71% versus 92%)
Lone
natural mother
(22% versus 7%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(7% versus 1%)
Results 12: Change in family type from 9 months to 5 years
for children with mothers under 25 – living with married
natural parents at 9 months
Cohabiting
natural parents
Both
natural parents
(56% versus 76%)
Lone
natural mother
(34% versus 19%)
Natural mother
and step-father
(10% versus 5%)
Summary
• Minority of children (1 in 7) were living in a different family
type at 5 years than at 9 months
• Some groups of children were much more likely to
experience family change:
– Living with lone natural mother at 9 months
– Living with cohabiting natural parents at 9 months
– Living with a teenage mother at 9 months
• For some children this family change may have been
associated with a strengthening of ties between their
natural parents (although less evidence of this for children
with younger mothers)
Policy Implications
• Support for polices which encourage young women to
delay childbearing and reduce teen pregnancy rate
• Families with young mothers may benefit from further
targeted support?
More information about
the birth cohort studies at
www.cls.ioe.ac.uk
Institute of Education
University of London
20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL
Tel +44 (0)20 7612 6000
Fax +44 (0)20 7612 6126
Email [email protected]
Web www.ioe.ac.uk
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