Inside the change of family structure: statistics and legislative changes


The traditional nuclear family is in decline in Britain. Datas show that more people choose to live alone, and trends of new types of families. 

Wider social changes had a major influence on modern society resulting in a change of the concept of family. What time ago was considered the typical traditional family: a two-generation, heterosexual married couple with one or more children; has now changed. 

According to the Office of National Statistics, London had the highest proportion of lone parent families in the UK in 2019. A recent research, has also revelead that same-sex married couples are the fastest growing type of family. Some of the data can be explained with the legislative changes to marriages and civil partnerships in the UK.

What is behind this change? Mrs David Davis, a sociologist teacher in Harrow college, explained these factors as the result of economical changes. “It is so evident now that women are more self-sufficient, considering the job opportunities present, they are more independent. 80 years ago, women were ´supposed´ to take care of children and it was unusual, almost impossible, for them to go out and work. Just in the UK now, there are around 1.8 million single parents, that make nearly a quarter of families with dependent children.”    

Women are more likely to be the one to take care of children and the trends represents that nine in ten single parent families are headed by women. These patterns are also seen as a result of the progression in social policies. The Equal Pay Act 1970 for example, entitled men and women to equal pay and terms of employment and led to an increment of women joining the workforce.  

Mrs David also referred to the lack of religion in society. “When I was a kid, my parents were strictly religious. They married when they were very young in the church, and valued marriage as a massive thing. When the divorce law came out, it was something unacceptable even to talk about.”, “But the way and time I am living in, I never really believed in God. I didn’t get married myself, as to me is a waste of money. And still, statistics show that marriage is less common in today’s society than 50 years ago.”

The attitudes in post modern society towards marriage has changed since the introduction of Divorce Reform Act 1969, which came into effect in 1971. There has been a general rise in divorce rates since then.

Is the change of family structure the result of a more inclusive society? “Definitely this can be considered as a factor. The increased numbers of migration in modern Britain have permitted cultural differences, which impacted in new forms of family. I also think that what we see today is the result of a more individualistic society, given the different options people tend to break away from what was considered ‘traditional’ time ago.

According to a study by Lucinda Platt in modern society mixed race families were not very common due to discrimination faced by blacks. Whereas now, this type of family is among the fastest growing type of family in the UK. 

Also, civil partnerships had been legal for same-sex couples in England and Wales since 2004. This recent change in the law to make opposite-sex couples eligible to form civil partnerships brought further increases to the overall number of civil partnerships formed in England. The interview made with Davyn and Nicola highlighted how the change in the legislative system was a big win for them. 

Davyn and Nicola during their honeymoon in Italy

They met at the university in 2002, and married 5 years later in Brighton, which is one of England’s most gay-friendly towns. 

“When we first got together, we never really considered marriage as a possibility. We were daydreaming how nice it would be to get married in church, as both our families are catholic.” Nicola, who has an italian background, describes his family reaction. “I remember when I told my parents that we would like to get married, their first question was, ‘Is it actually legal?’. They didn’t think it was”. 

“When we finally married our main message was: we are equal,” Davyn continued. “The law which said we couldn’t marry was political, but our love goes beyond that.”

Is society still not ready to accept your family? “I think it has to. It is tiring not being recognised as everyone else. Our family is equal to a family composed of a man and a woman, our love is just the same, there is no difference. Sometimes people might try to say it’s not, look at us wrong. But, we know that our love is the exact same, and this means everything to us,” Nicola continued. “Moving forward we think that society will have more ´acceptance´, as more countries are legislating same sex marriage and adoption for same sex couples.”

There are 28 countries around the world where same sex marriage is legal. Still only 18 EU countries give parents corresponding rights, mostly through second-parent adoption. The regulations between countries vary widely, resulting in countries to be more restricted than others. In England, for example, the previous condition that only married couple were entitled to adopt was cancelled, thus allowing same sex couples to apply. 

Adoption rates is raising among same sex couples in the UK. According to latest statistics adoption by same sex couples represent 12% of all adoptions in England. During an interview for the Telegraph, Jacqueline Fitzgerald, Partner and Head of Family Law at Wilsons said: “Same-sex couples are playing an increasingly important role in adopting children.”

Overall, the traditional nuclear family saw a drastic decline in Britain. Datas show that more people choose to live alone, without children or just as couples. The legal changes have facilitated the practice of divorce and the presence in diversity in family structures.   “Looking ahead to the future, families will continue to change and adapt according to cultural, technological and socio economic factors,” Mrs David continued. “In 50 years the concept of family might even come to an end.”