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Society still values the family

The family is alive and well and living in Britain - if a little poorer.

Despite rising divorce rates and gloomy prophecies of its death, the family continues to occupy a central place in society, according to research by the Office of National Statistics.

But it appears in a growing number of guises, with lone-parent families, remarried and co-habiting couples on the increase, while women continue to have children later and raise smaller families.

Lone-parent families show the largest increase, making up 22 per cent of families with dependent children, three times the rate 25 years ago. But only one family in 14 is made up of two co-habiting parents with a dependent child.

The report, Social Focus on Families, brings together a mass of Government and independent research into family structures, attitudes and lifestyles. It charts the rise of inequity in Britain: one in four children lives in a family whose income is less than half the national average - double the rate 15 years ago.

Encouragingly for supporters of "family values" researchers found 57 per cent of people still believed couples who wanted children should get married.

And while a third of children were now born out of wedlock, four fifths of those were registered by both parents, with the majority of couples living at the same address.

But divorces have trebled since 1971 while the number of first marriages has halved. Researchers found that married couples were more likely to still be together when their children started school.

Young people from lone-parent families were more likely to offend, the survey team found. But analysis showed the key factor was the quality of relationships with fathers.

Social Focus on Families is published by The Stationery Office, price Pounds 30.

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