Two things stand out compared to a century ago:

  • Most women now work outside the home.
  • In Britain 70% of mothers with 9-12 month old babies now do some paid work.

This compares to only 25% twenty-five years ago.

Family eating breakfast

Women's new economic independence has made women much less dependent on their male partner, as has the advent of the welfare state. These factors have contributed to the rise of family break up. As a result of increased break-up, a third of British sixteen year olds now live apart from their biological father.

A child’s performance at secondary school, self esteem and well being as an adult is linked especially to the father’s input. Children, whose parents separate are 50% more likely to fail at school, suffer behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression. Parents, even when their child’s welfare is of primary concern, should not stay together if the level of conflict between them is very bad. After a separation the issue of conflict remains central.

On average, children are less likely to become depressed or aggressive the better parents get on and the more they see their separated father. So it is a real worry that in Britain around 28% of all children whose parents have separated have no contact with their fathers three years after separation. A high percentage of these children did not talk intimately to anyone about their concerns. How common is parental separation?

At present about 15% of mothers who give birth are already living on their own, 25% are cohabiting and 60% are married. But by age 16, a third of British children are living apart from their biological father. On present trends this figure will continue to rise. So to reduce the level of conflict in family life, parents must give more priority to their relationship. This would do more for children than anything else.

Children's evidence

'I think all kids should have the right to live in a happy place where they feel safe and loved. I haven’t felt like that in some time but I know my parents don’t mean it. It’s just they argue and take it out on me.'
Frankie, 14, Manchester

'I wish I could make all childrens parents love them.'
11-year-old boy

Read The Children’s Society's view on family