Family formation and dissolution

Cohabitation is now more acceptable. This is a common pattern across Europe. The British Social Attitudes Survey shows more lenient attitudes towards pre-marital sex, a commonly-used indicator.

The profile of cohabitation has also changed - it is likely to be of longer duration, and involve older couples. Cohabitation is now a commonly-accepted pre-cursor to marriage, as part of the process. But it is also increasingly accepted as a status in its own right.

People are getting married at an older age: men from 34.8 in 2001 to 37 in 2011; and women from 32.3 to 34.5.  The factors which contribute to this are increased cohabitation before marriage and more remarriages.

In 2011, for the first time, the number of children registered to unmarried parents outstripped those registered to married parents. But many of these people marry after having children.

The average age of giving birth is higher but this varies across demographics and by area. As the average age rises, fertility rates are affected with women tending to have fewer children, or not able to have children at all.

Women are likely to have children later for various reasons such as staying on in education, wanting to establish themselves in the labour market, choice and affordability.

Family patterns differ across the demographic particularly in age profile and formation. Breakdown by council areas shows stark differences in the age at which women bear children. The evidence response does not give a breakdown by postcodes but that is likely to be even more revealing.

Delayed child bearing is more likely to take place in more affluent areas. In poorer areas, women are likely to give birth at a younger age. The Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee Inquiry into Teenage Pregnancy painted a bleak picture of educational inequality and poverty of aspiration in some areas of Scotland leading to young women having children at a younger age than their contemporaries in more affluent areas. The Scottish Government's forthcoming strategy on teenage pregnancy and young parents will need to address this.

This all has implications for how we design and deliver services; and whether we provide standardised or tailored services.

There are also differences across the demographic in the age of giving birth: different generation patterns, different ages and so on.  Increasingly there are very different family patterns across different demographic groups. There are questions about what that means for families and services.

Divorce rates are lower but cohabitation is increasing.   This masks the true extent of family breakdown because there are no figures for cohabitation breakdown.  But the effect on children is the same and we need to bear this in mind. We also do not know the extent of 're-partnering'. But, services report increasingly complex families - involving multiple fathers and grandparents. We need to know more about how families deal with this and the help they need to do so.  The evidence also raises questions such as, how fluid are some families? What is the rate of change? Do we support families to stay together or support them to manage the transition? What are the roles of the state and policy in intervening with or supporting families?