Families and inequalities

Publication type



IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities


Publication date

June 23, 2022


Families play a fundamental role in nurturing, socialising and supporting children until at least they become independent, and they in turn become the citizens, workers and parents of tomorrow. Yet not every family is able to provide the same level and type of resources and opportunities for their children. Furthermore, in recent decades, families have become more diverse, fragile and complex, which may have amplified inequalities in children’s life experiences and outcomes.

In Britain, there have been marked changes in partnership and parenthood behaviours. People have been marrying later and divorcing more, and cohabiting to a greater extent either as a prelude to marriage, instead of marrying or between marriages. Lone-parent families have become more prevalent arising from divorce, the break-up of cohabiting unions and a tendency for women, particularly young women, to have children on their own. Partnerships between men and women have become more varied in type and more fragile, whilst parenthood is being postponed, being avoided by a growing minority and occurring more often outside of marriage.

In this chapter, our focus is on families with children. We examine whether there are discernible socio-economic gradients in the recent changes in partnership and parenthood behaviours. We also assess the extent to which these family developments and the attributes of the families in which children are born and reared contribute to disparities in their lives and their future life chances, with a particular focus on income, mental well-being, parenting and parental relationships. We draw on an extensive literature from a range of disciplines and provide new analyses where appropriate.






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