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Changing lives of families with young children

The Nuffield Foundation published their report on the changing lives of families with young children in November 2020.

Key findings are that:

• Most children still spend their early childhood (under five) in families with married parents, although the proportions have declined over time (61% in 2019 compared to 71% in 1996)
• The proportion of families with cohabitating parents, and 'blended' families have concomitantly increased.
• The proportion of lone-parent families with children under five has stabilised over the past two decades at around 22%.
• Differences in family size by parental education level have widened over time, with mothers having higher levels of formal education having fewer children at an older age than those with lower levels of formal education.
• The income and education level of parents are more important for children's outcomes than whether parents are lone, married, cohabitating or separated.
• The quality of relationships between parents and children and the level of conflict is an important factor in children's outcomes and well-being. The presence of persistent, hostile and unresolved conflict has a detrimental impact on childhood well-being and outcomes regardless of family structure. [emphasis added]
• Very little is known about the impact on children of re-partnering, non-resident parents and living in blended families because there is insufficient data collected on separated families and the relationships between children and non-resident parents.
• Most children under five will now grow up in a household where both parents work. The employment rate for lone parents has also risen, although it remains one of the lowest of any major EU economy.
• The majority of children under five now spend a large part of their childhoods in formal early years education and care. The most disadvantaged families are least likely to take up their state-funded entitlements to early education and childcare, as are children who speak English as an additional language.
• Mothers still carry out much more childcare than fathers with very little change over 20 years, although the recent impact of COVID-19 has led to an increase in the amount of time fathers are spending with their young children.
• 37% of families where the youngest child is under five are living in poverty. Rates of child poverty are higher for children from Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups and for children living in families where there is a disabled adult or child. Almost half (48%) of lone parent families are living in poverty.
• Mothers are both more likely to have lost paid work and to be doing more childcare than fathers as a result of COVID-19, but fathers have also increased the amount of time spent on housework and childcare.
• Many of the gaps in evidence about early childhood and family life reflect the fact that some national, official and longitudinal surveys have not been designed to collect data about certain groups. In the UK, for example, we still do not accurately collect data on separating families or paternal mental health, making comment on trends and patterns extremely difficult. [emphasis added] With principal sources of data no longer reflecting the reality of modern family life it is difficult to see how policy, resources and services can be meeting the needs of young children growing up in different kinds of family.

The outline, summary and full review can be accessed at:

(Source: Nuffield Foundation, 25th November 2020) 

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