Source of family breakdown

  • By the age of 14, 46% of UK children are not living with both natural parents. This is data from 4,476 first born children in the Millennium Cohort Study, weighted to represent the national population. 
  • Less than one third of this (14% of the 46%) comes from the break-up of marriages;  the majority (32% of the 46%) comes from the break-up of unmarried couples
  • Among teens whose natural parents are still together, the majority of parents are married (84%) with only a small minority unmarried (16%) 


As a spin-off from a wider analysis that I am doing for a PhD at the University of Bristol, I have used data from the Millennium Cohort Study following the parents of 4,476 first-born children born in 2000-2002 over their first 14 years. My analysis shows that those who never married were significantly more likely to have split up compared to those who married at some stage, whether before or after their child was born.

In terms of raw data, 60% of parents who never married split up compared to 21% of those who married before their child was born and 32% who married afterwards. But even when considering a wide range of socio-demographic controls – such as ethnicity, age, time lived together, education and relationship happiness – the probability of splitting up was still 46% for never married parents, significantly higher than the 26% for those marrying before and 27% for those marrying after their child was born.

The result of this is that 46% of first-born children aged 14-years-old were not living with both natural parents. This comprised 19% who were born to single parents, 14% whose parents married at some stage then divorced and 13% whose parents never married but split up.

Divorce accounts for less than a third of all family breakdown, rising from 10% of breakdown involving first-born children aged 3 to 31% of breakdown involving children aged 14.

Among natural parents of 14-year-olds still living together, 84% were married.

Harry Benson, Research Director, Marriage Foundation – July 2023


Here you can download the Research Briefing Paper as a PDF and the Press Release where it is available.

Media Links

Times – Unmarried parents three times more likely to split before child is 14 – A Marriage Foundation report has found that 84 per cent of the couples still together when their child turned 14 were married

Mail – Married couples far more likely to be together by the time their children are teenagers than unmarried parents – as almost half of 14-year-olds no longer live with both their mother and father

Interviews with Times Radio, LBC, Premier radio

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