Family diversity by ethnicity in the UK

How does family life vary by ethnicity in the UK today?

This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across some of the different ethnic groups in the UK. It looks at such things as marriage, divorce, birth rates, household types, equality and household structure.

It has been written mainly for the A-level sociology specification, families and households topic.

Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.

(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)

A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK

Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.

Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.

Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.

One of the key questions A-level sociology students should ask themselves is the extent to which the above research is true today, or the extent to which things have changed!

Household type by Ethnicity, UK Census 2011

According to the UK 2011 Census, we had the following variations by ethnicity:

Some of the most obvious differences of ethnic minority households (compared to white) households include:

  • Asian households are three times less likely to be cohabiting, and have higher rates of marriage
  • Asian households have half the rate of Lone Person households compared to white households.
  • Black and mixed households have twice the rate of lone parent households.
  • Black, Asian and mixed households have incredibly low levels of pensioner couple households compared to White households, and much higher rates of ‘other households’ (could be ‘multigenerational?)

Source here.


British Asians have more conservative views towards marriage and sexuality.

According to a poll in 2018, British Asians are twice as likely to report that ‘sex before marriage’ is unacceptable than ‘all Britons’, they are also more likely to be against same-sex relationships.

Source: BBC News report, 2018

A previous UK National Statistics report showed that the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.


Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples

Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.

However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.


Forced Marriages are more common among Asian Families

There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.

In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of Forced Marriage, with there being over 1000 cases a year for most of the last decade.

Nearly half of all cases involve victims being taken to or originating from Pakistan, with Bangladesh being the second most involved country.

Only 7% of Forced Marriages take place entirely in the UK, so there’s an interesting link to (negative) Globalisation and family life here.

Source: ONS Forced Marriage Statistics


Immigrant women have higher fertility rates

The fertility rate for UK born mothers is 1.63, compared to 1.99 for non UK born mothers. This means the birth rate for non-UK born mother is about 25% higher.

The percentage of babies born to women from outside the UK has increased considerably over the last 20 years, but has recently leveled off and could now be declining.

Around 28% of births are to women who were born outside of the UK in 2018.

Source: ONS statistics: Births by Parents Country of Birth

The number of interracial relationships is increasing

The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations between ethnic groups in the future…..

Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.


But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background. By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.


Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.

Source: The Guardian, 2015

Other stuff

This is interesting: When will we stop blaming single black mother households.

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