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Stepfamilies in England and Wales

A recent release from the Office for National Statistics has revealed the number of stepfamilies in England and Wales, and given an interesting insight into their composition.

The statistics show that in 2011 there were 544,000 stepfamilies with dependent children in England and Wales. This means that 11% of couple families with dependent children were stepfamilies.

While the number of couple non-stepfamilies with dependent children has risen by 4% between 2001 and 2011, the number of couple stepfamilies with dependent children has fallen by 14% from 631,000 to 544,000 over the same period.

There are no clear reasons for the fall in the number of stepfamilies but the ONS suggests a number of possible influencing factors, including:

  • A rise in the average age at which women have their first baby. This means that children are less likely to be born to younger couples who are more likely to break up. This may lessen the chance of children becoming stepchildren later on
  • Lone parents may be increasingly likely to have a partner who lives elsewhere. This partner may be a stepparent to the lone parent’s children while not living with them permanently.

The statistics also revealed that:

  • In 2011, 689,000 dependent children lived in married couple stepfamilies. This represents 10% of all children who lived in married couple families (of which there were 7.1 million). A smaller number of dependent children (418,000) lived in cohabiting couple stepfamilies.
  • Around 28% of married couple stepfamilies had three or more dependent children compared with 17% of married couple non-stepfamilies. This may be expected as some couples may have one or more children from a previous relationship and go on to have another child within their current relationship. Alternatively, children may come from both partners’ previous relationships.
  • According to the study, cohabiting couple stepfamilies tend to be larger than cohabiting couple non-stepfamilies. The ONS suggests that this pattern could partly reflect the stability of parental partnerships:
    • Previous research has indicated that marital partnerships are more stable than cohabiting partnerships.
    • In addition, some couples may cohabit with one child, then marry and have another. According to the ONS, this may mean that cohabitation is a transitory stage before marriage for some people.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.

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