UK: Myth-Busting Statistics on Single Parenting: Gingerbread

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

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

Single parent families and poverty

  1. Children in single parent families have a much higher risk of living in poverty than children in couple families. Around four in every 10 (41 per cent) of children in single parent families are poor, compared to just over two in every 10 of children in couple families (17)
  2. Paid work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty for single parents; the poverty rate for single parent families where the parent works part time is 23 per cent, and 18 per cent where the parent works full time (18)
  3. 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)
  4. 43 per cent of single parents are social housing tenants compared to 12 per cent of couples (20)
  5. 71 per cent of all single parent renters receive housing benefit compared to 25 per cent of all couple renters (21)
  6. 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)
  7. 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)
  8. 63 per cent of single parents have no savings compared to 34 per cent of couples (24)

Work and childcare

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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

  1. Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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

  1. At least 9 per cent of single parents share the care of their child equally, or nearly equally, with the other parent (36)
  2. 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)
  3. 65 per cent of those with contact said this included overnight stays, usually at least monthly (38)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)


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