Statistics can be made to prove or demonstrate many things. The same set of data can be manipulated in some cases to show opposing things. Just ask a politician. There was an interesting statistic that came out a few weeks ago which made me do a bit of digging to see what real underlying trends I could see in the make-up of the British family, marriage and children. It was the one that suggested one million children in Britain are now growing up without a father because of family breakdown.
The first thing I came across when I started looking for how families have changed is this infographic from the Unites States.
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It showed some very clear trends on the other side of the Atlantic, though none of them came as a huge surprise. The percentage of 20-somethings married dropped from 68% in 1960 to 26% in 2008. No surprise then that the average age for a first marriage is 28 for men and 26 for women – the highest ever. In all, 72% of American adults were married in 1960, down to just 52% by 2008. In 2009, women made up 47% of the workforce, compared to just 33 per cent in 1960. Stay at home dads are on the rise, as are families with same sex parents.
So, I set about trying to pull together similar statistics for the UK. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has a huge array of data on this sort of thing – if you can find it, which is not always easy. But just Googling a few choice phrases soon revealed numerous stories where journalists have done the hard work already.
- Women marry at 30, men 32, according to 2009 ONS figures . The mean average in 1991 was 25.5, up from 23.1 in 1981. That is quite a change in a generation.
- Married couples falling, cohabitees rising. Those tying the knot before living together fell by 262,000 to 12m in 10 years while cohabitees rose from 2.1m to 2.9m. Interestingly though, number of households has risen by 7% since 2001 due to immigration and people living in smaller family groups.
- Increasing numbers of same-sex couples are living together (63,000) and entering into civil partnerships (59,000), with 8,000 said to have children (all those figures from this story).
- Of people born in 1931, 51% of men and 75% of women were married by the age of 25, compared with less than 6% of men and 12% of women born in 1985. (source)
- Almost as many mothers as women without children are working. In 1996, 23% of mothers worked full-time, up to 29% by the final quarter of 2010. Overall, 66pc of mothers are in some form of work, either part or full-time.
- Men now make up nearly 10 per cent of those who care for children while their partner goes out to work. There were 227,000 men staying at home to look after family between September and November last year, a rise of 19,000 compared to the same period in 2011 and the highest increase since figures began in 1993.
What does this tell us then about the family and the services we offer? We need to adapt and change to ensure all needs are catered for. Whether that is bearing in mind that more women are becoming the main breadwinners in a family, that it is normal for children to live in families where their parents are not married or that marriage is coming later so divorce may also come later, preconceived notions about nuclear families in our society no longer apply.
Of course, you could probably find some statistics which proved the opposite also!