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The good news out of lockdown - many families felt closer and happier despite financial uncertainties

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The COVID-19 crisis has strengthened parent-child relationships, according to the latest data from the Understanding Society study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.

About a quarter of parents reported that their relationship with their children had become better since the government’s stay at home policy. Less than 5% reported it had become worse.

These results are based on parents surveyed in the Understanding Society May COVID-19 survey, a nationally representative study that collected data from 5,500 parents.

Professor Brienna Perelli-Harris from the ESRC Centre for Population Change at the University of Southampton and Families Topic Champion for Understanding Society analysed the survey findings: “Many recent studies have pointed out the increasing economic and caring burden for women; for example, the April COVID-19 survey indicated that, on average, mothers spend nine more hours doing childcare and home schooling per week than fathers.

“However, nearly one-third of women appear to be benefiting from the lockdown as a time to become closer to their children. Only 5% reported their relationships had become worse. It seems that, despite the unequal pressures of home schooling and housework, slightly more mothers than fathers reported an improvement in their relationships.” The survey also showed that:

• Working from home may not be as bad for parent-child relationships as some have predicted. More parents who work at home reported improvements in their relationships than those who do not.

• Investing in home schooling and caring seems to be related to closer relationships.

• Fewer lone mothers reported an improvement in their relationships, and slightly more said their relationships had become worse.

• About 10% who said they were finding it difficult to get by or thought their financial future would be worse were more likely to say their relationships had deteriorated; however 27% said their relationships has improved.

Professor Perelli-Harris continues: “The survey has shown that working from home and having the time to home school seems to improve parent-child relationships. Note, however, that those who can work from home most likely have higher incomes and education. Overall, though, the differences by socio-economic status are minor, with nearly a third of those in deprived circumstances still reporting that their relationships had improved recently. And keep in mind that 97% of parents in Britain say that they have a close or very close relationship with their children. Very few say that they are not at all close to their children.”

Nearly 40% of parents who reduced their hours to look after their children reported their relationships had become better, and only 6% said their relationships had become worse. Parents who spend more time home schooling their children reported having a better relationship than those who spend no time with their children. This could be partly due to the age of the children, however; more parents with younger children reported an improvement in their relationship than parents with older children.

Some groups did appear to suffer more due to the lockdown. The April COVID-19 Understanding Society survey indicated that lone parents have experienced particularly severe declines in household earnings and have been falling behind on bills. These stressors may be impacting relationships. Fewer lone parents say they talk to their children about important matters. However, they are also less likely to quarrel with their children, possibly because they have fewer interactions with them.

While the survey is based on a nationally representative sampling framework, it may still have missed the most disadvantaged who have suffered the most. For example, there is insufficient data on men who have experienced hardship to be able to say whether their relationships have become better or worse. Those in the worse circumstances most likely did not answer the survey at all.

Read the full briefing note on Family Relationships here