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Nearly one in ten children live in a stepfamily, ONS reports

Nearly one in ten children lived with a step family in 2011 according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

A total of 1.1 million, or nine per cent of all children in England and Wales, lived with a step family that year, the data reveals, in 544,000 stepfamilies. The figure represents 11 per cent of all families with dependent children –a hefty 14 per cent drop since 2001, when there were 631,000 stepfamilies.

According to the ONS, “there are no clear reasons for the fall in the number of stepfamilies”, but they speculate that one contributory factor might be a rise in the average age at which women have their first child. Younger couples are more likely than older ones to break up and become involved in other relationships.

In addition, single parents are now more likely to have a partner who maintains a separate home. The partner may play some kind of parental role with the children but live elsewhere.

The ONS defines a stepfamily as “couple families where there is at least one stepchild in the family”.

A clear majority of the such families feature a married couple, the ONS reports – 340,000, with 689,000 dependent children, compared to just 203,000 cohabiting couples, with 418,000 dependent children. The latter figure represents 24 per cent of all children living in cohabiting families.

According to the General Lifestyle Survey, conducted in 2011, 85 per cent of stepfamilies feature children from the woman’s previous relationships and only 11 per cent of from the man’s. A small minority – just four per cent – feature children from both parties’ previous relationships. This blending of children produces larger family groups. No less than 28 per cent of married couple stepfamilies have three more or children, compared to just 17 per cent of other married families.

There is a similar gap between cohabiting stepfamilies with three or more children – 28 per cent vs 11 per cent of cohabiting couples with no stepchildren.

London and regions to the west of the capital are home to the lowest numbers of stepfamilies, the report states, with the highest numbers found in south Wales, the East Midlands, Norfolk and other coastal areas.

As stepfamilies tend to be larger than other families, the affordability of housing will influence the areas in which they live, the ONS suggests. An additional influence may be the geographical distribution of ethnic groups which are less likely to divorce and or have children outside marriage than the general population.

Photo by bluekidcory under a Creative Commons licence


The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Stepfamilies in The Times - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] This week saw the launch of new research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on the current status of the stepfamily in England and Wales. […]

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