Rise in single mothers shatters image of the nuclear family

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The traditional image of the British nuclear family, headed by a married couple, was shattered by official figures yesterday which showed that one in five families with children was a one-parent family, and never-married mothers are now the large st group of lone parents .

An article based on census figures shows the proportion of lone parents who are single and have never married has more than doubled since 1986, and it confirms the continued rise of one-parent families to one in five, compared with one in seven in 1986.

Published by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, the report - Population Trends - estimates the number of one-parent families in Great Britain in 1991 was 1.3 million and gives a provisional estimate for 1992 of 1.4 million. It estimates therewere 2.2 million dependent children living in lone-parent families in 1991 and provisionally estimates there were 2.4 million in 1992.

One of the most striking features to emerge is the change in the make up of lone-parent families. In 1986, divorced lone mothers made up 5.6 per cent of all families with children, separated mothers 2.6 per cent and never-marrieds 3.2 per cent.

In 1991, divorced lone mothers made up 6.5 per cent of all families with children, separated lone mothers 4 per cent and never marrieds 6.6 per cent. In the mid-Seventies, never-marrieds formed the smallest group of one-parents families.

Provisional figures for 1992 show the proportion of never-marrieds rose still further to 7.3 per cent compared with 6.4 per cent divorced mothers and 4.5 per cent separated.

The figures show that in 1986 12.5 per cent of all families were headed by lone mothers and 1.4 per cent by lone fathers, while in 1991 the proportion of families headed by lone mothers was 18.2 per cent and lone fathers1.6 per cent. In 1992, the provis i onal estimates are 19.1 per cent headed by lone mothers and 1.8 per cent by lone fathers.

A spokeswoman for the National Council for One-Parent Families said: "It is still the case that the majority of lone parents are divorced, separated or widowed. However, this is not to say that there is not a dramatic growth in the number of single, never-married mothers. There are all kinds of reasons for this, not least the changes in the economy which mean that at the same time as there were fewer male breadwinners women are becoming more and more economically independent. There is no evidence that they haven't entered into relationships or cohabited with the hope and expectation they will be for life.

"These figures are all the more reason why men should ...take their responsibilities as fathers seriously, both financially and emotionally."