British News February 14, 2003

Married homes are now the exception

By Alexandra Frean, Social Affairs Correspondent
THE number of households headed by married couples has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time, reflecting sweeping social changes in British family life.

Lifestyle data from the 2001 census also show a significant increase in the number of people living in poor health and a big increase in the number of people caring for them.

Rising divorce rates combined with better career opportunities and greater lifestyle choices for women have helped to fuel the steady decline in the nuclear family, yesterday’s census figures show. The proportion of married households plummeted from 55 to 45 per cent between 1991 and 2001. The proportion in 1981 was 64 per cent and in 1971 68 per cent.

At the same time there has been a steady increase in the number of never-married, single people living on their own, cohabiting couples and lone parents. Nearly a third of all adults remain single and one-person households now represent 30 per cent of all households, up from 26.3 in 1991. London has the highest proportion of one-person households, 34 per cent.

Across England and Wales, cohabiting couples make up 8.3 per cent of all households. Brighton and Hove has the highest proportion in the country, 11.5 per cent. There has also been a steady rise in lone-parent families with dependent children, from 5.2 per cent in 1991 to 6.5 per cent in 2001.

The changes reflected in the figures have far-reaching implications for children. Some 22 per cent of children aged under 16 now live in lone-parent families, with a further 11 per cent living with cohabiting couples, and fewer than 60 per cent living in married-couple households.

Fewer than 30 per cent of households in England and Wales contain dependent children, and only one in nine has children aged under five. The South West has the lowest proportion of children aged under five (5.4 per cent) and London the highest (6.7 per cent).

Conversely, the South West has the highest proportion of pensioners (27 per cent) and London the lowest (18.4 per cent). Across the whole of England and Wales pensioners make up almost 25 per cent of all households.

A significant consequence of the growing number of pensioners — for the first time there are now more people aged over 60 than 16 or under — is a big increase in the number of people in ill health. Although just over two thirds of the population describe themselves as being in “good health”, the figures also show that poor health is marring the quality of life for 9.5 million people in England and Wales. Across the country, the proportion of people with a limiting long-term illness rose from 13.3 to 18.2 per cent between 1991 and 2001.

The figures explode the myth that medical advances, improved diet and greater awareness of healthy lifestyles will herald an era of widespread public good health.

The first census to show the number of people providing unpaid care to those with long-term disabilities or illnesses puts the figure at 5.2 million. The census data shows that the proportion of people providing full-time care (up to 49 hours a week) has almost doubled in the past two years to 21 per cent.

Copyright 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd.