Increasing complexity of family relationships: lifetime experience of single motherhood and stepfamilies in Great Britain

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



Working Papers of the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change


Publication date

July 1, 1996


We investigate the lifetime incidence of single motherhood and the stepfamily formation in Great Britain using both retrospective and panel information contained in the British Household Panel Study, 1991-94. Our analysis indicates that about 40 percent of mothers will spend some time as a single parent. The duration of single parenthood is often short, one-half remaining single mothers for 4 years or less. About three-fourths of these single mothers will form a stepfamily, with 80 percent of these stepfamilies being started by cohabitation and 85 percent following the dissolution of a union. Stepfamilies are not very stable: over one- quarter dissolve within one year. Thus, an increasing proportion of today's young children in Great Britain are likely to experience the changes, tensions and strains which life in single- parent families and stepfamilies often entail. As a consequence, the increasing complexity of inter-household relationships between children and parents has serious implications for the relevance of theoretical views of the operation of the family put forward by social researchers.



working paper

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