Families and Households in the UK – Social Trends

married family households are decreasing, cohabiting family, lone parent family and single parent family households are all increasing.

Last Updated on June 6, 2023 by Karl Thompson

This post summaries some of the changing trends (and continuities) in family and household structure in the UK, using data from the Office for National Statistics which collects a range of data annually on families and households in the UK.

The Office for National Statistics Families and Households Hub Page is an obvious starting point for exploring this issue . Some of the headline stats include the following:

Families in the UK in 2022…

  • There were 19.4 million families in the UK in 2022.
  • The most common family type in the UK 2022 was the married couple family, making up 65% of all families (down from 67% in 2012).
  • Cohabiting couple families made up 19% of all families, up from 16% in 2012.
  • There were 2.9 million lone parent families in 2022, representing 15% of all families.
  • 43% of families had no children living with them and 42% of families had at least one dependent child.
  • Only 15% of families had only non-dependent children living with them.

Households in the UK in 2022…

percentages of household by household type UK 2019, pie chart.

The breakdown of family and non-family households in the UK in 2022 was as follows…

  • There were 28.2 million households in the UK in 2022, an increase of 1.6 million since 2012.
  • 18.8 million (57%) of households were one family households, either with or without children living in them. Approximately half of these had children living in, the other half were ’empty nest’ households.
  • (10% of households were lone parent family households (84% of which were lone-mother households. NB this 10% is included in the 57% in the first bullet point above!).
  • 8.5 million households (30%) were single person households, up from 29% in 2012 and representing 13% of the population in 2022.
  • 3% of households were occupied by unrelated adults living together
  • 1% of households were multi family, which includes multigenerational.
  • The average household had 2.36 people living in it in 2022, similar to 2012.

Changes to families and households 2012-2022

I’ve used the 2022 statistics where I can to summarise trends, but in some cases below I’ve had to go back to the 2018 analysis because that’s the last time the ONS focussed on changes over time using the particular graphics I wanted. NB the trend between 2018 and 2022 probably hasn’t changed anyway, so no worries!

(With any luck I’ll have the visualisation skills to update this with the 2022 data soon enough anyway!)

Changes to Family Households

  • There has been a continued decrease in married couple families, from 67% of families in 2012 to 65.2% of families in 2022.
  • Opposite-sex cohabiting families have seen the most signficant growth, up from 15.4% to almost 19% of all families today.
  • The number of lone parent families has decreased slightly in the last ten years to 15% of all families in 2022.
  • Same-sex cohabiting and same-sex civil partner families have both increased and together make up 1.2% of all families in 2022, up from 0.8% of all families in 2012
  • This means same-sex families have had the fastest growth rate over the past decade but from a very small base.
bar chart showing changes to family types UK 2012-2022.

Marriage and Cohabitation Trends 

The chart below clearly shows the long term increase in cohabitating families between 1996 to 2018, and when combined with stats above, from 1996 to 2022.

In 1996 there were only 2 million cohabiting families, in 2022 there were 3.7 million.

The number of married families remained stable between 1996 and 2018, but have declined quite sharply in the last four years to 2022.

Family Size in the UK

The one child family is the most common type of family in the UK in 2022.

  • 44% of families are one child, around 3.6 million families
  • 41% are two children families, around 3.4 million families
  • 15% are three children families, around 1.2 million families.
pie chart showing family sizes in the UK in 2022.

Family size appears to have remained pretty stable over the past 15 years (1)

Households Size in the UK

The average household size in the UK is 2.4, but the infographic below taken from the 2021 UK Census (2) shows how this breaks down more specifically. The dots are local authority areas, so the national average is in the middle of each cluster.

  • 30% of households have one person in
  • 35% have two people in
  • 17% have three people in
  • 14% have three people in
  • 5% have five people in.

The above are estimates based on looking at what’s below!

Multi Family Households 

There were approximately 280 000 multi family households in the UK in 2022, which is down from the peak of just over 300 000 in 2014, but a significant long term increase since 1996 when there were only 180 000 such households…

Bar chart showing trends in multi family households UK

Increase in People Living Alone

There has been a slow and steady increase in the overall numbers of people living alone, but this varies a lot by age – generally the number of older people living alone has increased, the number of younger people living alone has decreased.

Signposting and related posts.

This is a key topic in the families and households module, usually taught in the first year of A-level sociology.

An obvious next post to read would be ‘explaining the increase in family diversity‘.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com


(1) Family size in the UK.

(2) UK Census: Household and Resident Characteristics 2021.

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