Seven years in the lives of British families
Evidence on the dynamics of social change from the British Household Panel Survey

Two: Patterns of household and family formation

During the past 25 years, two major changes have occurred in the patterns of household and family formation (as identified in the Introduction). Marriage and childbearing are occurring increasingly later in people’s lives, and there has been a dramatic increase in childbearing outside marriage. These two changes are likely to affect family life dramatically. The way in which men and women form and dissolve their families has direct consequences on the way in which they allocate their time inside the household (see Chapter Three on the role of partners within families) and in the labour market (see Chapter Four on employment). The allocation of time within and outside families is also likely to shape the situations that men and women face when forming and dissolving their families. This chapter will argue that the two major changes in the patterns of family life can be primarily accounted for by the large increase in the tendency to cohabit in first partnerships (rather than marry immediately). In doing so, it will analyse when and in what way young people leave their parental home, when they enter their first partnership and whether it is a cohabitation or marriage, the stability of cohabiting unions, repartnering after cohabitation dissolution and the timing of motherhood. In the light of the importance of cohabiting unions in the emergence of these major changes in family formation patterns, the chapter also analyses who is likely to cohabit in their first partnership, and it investigates the factors associated with the dissolution of cohabiting unions and their conversion into marriage.

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