House study explodes single-pregnant myth

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The Independent Online
GLENDA COOPER

The idea of teenage mothers who deliberately get pregnant to jump the housing queue is a myth, according to a report.

Only 10 per cent of the "small minority" of women who became mothers without forming any bond with the father were living alone with their child in social housing six months after the birth, said the Economic and Social Research Council's centre on microsocial change.

Rather, almost half these young mothers were still living with their parents six months later. And if their parents were living in social housing these girls were likely to leave home later than other mothers or those who remained childless.

While early motherhood substantially increased the chance that the woman would eventually move into social housing, she usually moved in with a partner.

Professor John Ermisch, author of the report, said: "The phenomenon of young single mothers entering social housing is exaggerated by the media and popular discussion.

"While early motherhood increased the chances substantially that young woman's first major tenure is social housing, the young mothers usually entered social housing with a partner ... Young single motherhood is not therefore a major force in creating social housing tenants."

He adds that first births prior to partnership are rare and among recent generations only 8 per cent of women gave birth prior to any partnership.

Taking data from the National Child Development Study and the British Household Panel Survey, which cover people from 1958 to the present day, the ESRC centre examined the sequence of living arrangements and types of housing young people lived in.

Unsurprisingly, higher unemployment rates and a tighter regional housing market strongly reduced the probability of setting up home with a partner and slowed departure from the parental home.

And the idea that once an owner-occupier always an owner-occupier is a fallacy.

There was considerable movement between tenures: a quarter of owner-occupiers had left owner-occupation at least once by the age of 33, while 57 per cent of those who started off in social housing had changed tenure.

Almost all had left their parents' home by the age of 33 and women generally left home earlier than men. One half of the women studied had left home before their 21st birthday; it was generally two years later for men.

t Household formation and housing tenure decisions of young people, ESRC Research Centre, University of Essex, price pounds 5.50

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