The Structure of Families and Households in the UK

uk family structure

The structure of our family or household is one of foundations on which we decide how we live in our homes and the type of products we will buy for our homes

Here we highlight 6 key facts about UK family and household structures, courtesy of the Office of National Statistics:-

#1. Married or civil partner couple families are the most common family type

Of the 18.9 million families in the UK, the most common type of family is married or civil partner couple families, of which there are 12.7 million.  And married or civil partner couples without dependent children are more common than those with dependent children, at 7.9 million and 4.8 million respectively

Families by family type ONS

The second largest family type is the cohabiting couple family at 3.3 million, which is the fastest growing family type and has doubled over the past 20 years.

Opposite sex married couple families account for 79.1% of all couple families. Opposite sex cohabiting couple families were the next largest type of couple family at 19.8%.  Same sex couple families (including civil partner, same sex married and same sex cohabiting couple families) accounted for 1% of all couple families.

#2. Lone parent families have grown significantly

Since 1996, lone parent families have grown by 18.6%, a statistically significant increase; in comparison married couple families have grown very little (0.3%).

Of the 2.9 million lone parent families in the UK in 2016, the majority (86%) were headed by a female lone parent.  This percentage has changed little over the past 20 years as women continue to be more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when a relationship breaks down and therefore become lone parents.

#3. More young adults are living with their parents

In 1996 around 5.8 million 15 to 34 year olds in the UK lived with their parents, this increased to a peak of 6.7 million in 2014 and remained around 6.5 million in 2016.

Although the total population aged 15 to 34 in the UK has increased over the past 20 years, the percentage living with their parents has risen from 36% in 1996 to 39% in 2016.

Young adults living with their parents

A large percentage of 15 to 19 year olds would be expected to be living with their parents and the number of young adults living with their parents has shown to decrease with age.   Looking at 20 to 34 year olds, the number living with their parents has increased from 2.7 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2013 and has since remained at 3.3 million. The percentage living with their parents has risen from 21% in 1996 to 25% in 2016.Young males are more likely than young females to be living with their parents. Around 44% of males aged 15 to 34 are living with their parents and 31% of males aged 20 to 34 are living with their parents.   This is compared with 34% of females aged 15 to 34 and only 20% of females aged 20 to 34.

Larger numbers of young adults tending to stay at home for longer may be explained by them staying in education and training for longer, delaying leaving the parental home as they formalise relationships and have children at older ages and also as it has become more expensive to rent or buy a home.


#4. Average UK household size is 2.4 people

There are 27.1 million households in the UK and this number has increased by 7% since 2006, in line with the growth of the UK population during this period. As a result, the average household size has remained at 2.4 people over the decade.

Around 28% of households contained one person. Although this has not changed much over the last decade, compare this to 1971 when only 17% of households in Great Britain contained one person, it would suggest that the proportion of one-person households has increased considerably since the early 1970s.

Households were most likely to contain 2 people (35%) while 16% of households contained 3 people and 21% of households contained 4 or more people.

#5. Multi-Family Households are the fastest growing family type

Households containing 2 or more families have increased by 66% from 194,000 households in 2006 to 323,000 households in 2016.

Multi-family households cover many different situations; the families may be completely unrelated, or they may be multigenerational and related in some way, for example, a married couple with their son and his girlfriend, older couples moving in with their adult child and their family, young adults who are partnered or lone parents, remaining or returning to their parent’s household.

The increase in multi-family households is considered to be statistically significant, yet despite this rise, which was also seen using the 2011 Census results, multi-family households still only represented a very small proportion (1.2%) of all households in 2016.

#6. More women than men live alone

Of the 7.7 million one-person households in the UK (2017 figures), overall 54.2% of them contain one woman and 45.8% of them contain one man.

However, when considering the ages of 16 to 64, the majority (57.8%) living alone are male. This pattern is reversed for those ages 65 to 74 and 75 and over, where 62% and 71.8% respectively are female.

The disparity in the younger age group could be explained by the higher proportions of men than women who never marry, men marry at older ages than women and marry women younger than themselves, and partnership dissolution leading to men living alone while women are more likely to live with any children from the relationship.

In the older age groups, the higher percentage of women living along is partly because there are more women than men in the total population aged 65 and over due to women’s higher life expectancy.  By the age of 65 most women have been married and husbands are typically older than their wives. These 2 factors accentuate the gap in life expectancy between husbands and wives and mean that more women than men become widowed, which may lead to living alone.

However, it should be noted that the number of widowed women is falling due to life expectancy increasing faster for men compared with women.


What you should know:-

  • family is a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent, with at least one child, who live at the same address. Children may be dependent or non-dependent.
  • household is one person living alone, or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room, sitting room or dining area. A household can consist of more than one family, or no families in the case of a group of unrelated people.
  • Dependent children are those aged under 16 living with at least one parent, or aged 16 to 18 in full-time education, excluding all children who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household
  • The term “Parent” could include grandparents, step-parents or foster parents
  • Once a person either lives with a partner or has a child, they are considered to have formed their own family and are no longer counted as being part of their parents’ family even if they still live in the same household.


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