Latest data shows the UK has the highest rate of family breakdown in Western Europe. Figures calculated by Eurostat, the EU’s primary statistics body, and uncovered by The Marriage Foundation show that, for the first time, the UK has the highest proportion of children living in lone parent households of all the countries in Western Europe.
Based on the proportion of children living in lone parent households, figures for 2012 show the UK has jumped to pole position having fluctuated between second and fifth since 2005.
According to Eurostat, one quarter (24 per cent) of UK children lived in lone parent households in 2012. This matches the 23.8 per cent figure produced by the UK’s own Office for National Statistics. The figure for Europe as a whole is 16 per cent.
While ‘lone parenthood’ is a good indicator of the trend, it understates the full extent of family breakdown as many lone parents go on to form new relationships. Those who do so have still experienced family breakdown, but are no longer classified as lone parents.
Commenting on the findings, Harry Benson, Research Director for the Marriage Foundation, said: “These figures are alarming. Evidence clearly shows the negative impact of being brought up in single parent homes. These children are less likely to attain qualifications, more prone to experience unemployment and are more likely to commit crime. Being brought up in a stable two-parent household is essential in affording children the decent start in life they deserve.
“While most lone parents do an amazing job with fewer resources, few have chosen lone parenthood as their lifestyle choice. Our research clearly shows that in the UK’s case – and that of other countries in Western Europe -this rising rate of lone parenthood is a symptom not of a rising divorce rate, but instead by the meteoric rise in the numbers of children brought up by unmarried parents.
“In contrast, when we look at Eastern Europe, the reverse is true. The primary driving force is the breakdown of married couples. There is no correlation between lone parenthood and births outside marriage.
“It is essential that policymakers face up to the realities of a generation brought up in single parent households if they are genuine about averting the host of negative social and economic implications it entails. Western Europe policy must focus on supporting existing marriages.
“If we want to see fewer couples ending up as lone parents, with all of the associated consequences for them and their children, then it’s vital that through relationship education and public discourse we counter the ongoing narrative against marriage, which is fuelled in part by the higher rate of divorce for celebrities and prominent public figures. We need to restore trust and confidence in marriage for the sake of generations to come.”