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Families and households, 2001 to 2011 - Frequently Asked Questions

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January 2012

Q1 What has been published?

Today ONS published estimates of the structure and characteristics of families and households in the UK between 2001 and 2011. The following eight tables have been published:

  • Table 1: Families by family type and presence of children
  • Table 2: People in families by family type and presence of children
  • Table 3: Families with dependent children by family type and number of dependent children
  • Table 4: Dependent children in families by family type
  • Table 5: Households by size
  • Table 6: People living alone by age and sex
  • Table 7: Households by type of household and family
  • Table 8: People in households by type of household and family

A statistical bulletin and summary have been published, which describe key findings and trends. A Summary Quality Report has also been published. All information can be found on the ONS website.

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Q2 What are the key findings?

  • In 2011 there were 17.9 million families1 in the UK. Of these 12.0 million consisted of a married couple with or without children
  • The number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased significantly, from 2.1 million in 2001 to 2.9 million in 2011. The number of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased significantly, from 1.3 million to 1.8 million over the same period
  • There were 1.96 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK in 2011, a figure which has grown steadily from 1.75 million in 2001
  • There were 26.3 million households in the UK in 2011. Of these 29 per cent consisted of only one person and almost 20 per cent consisted of four or more people

More detailed discussion on key findings can be found in the statistical bulletin and summary. All data are available at UK level.

1 Families and households are defined in question 10.

[1] Families and households are defined in question 10.

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Q3 Is the number of civil partner couple and same sex couple families increasing?

Civil partnerships were introduced in the UK in December 2005, and the number of civil partner couple families has increased steadily from 13,000 in 2006 to 59,000 in 2011. This is a statistically significant increase; that is this increase is real and is unlikely to have occurred by chance.

The number of same sex cohabiting couple families has increased from 45,000 in 2001 to 63,000 in 2011. This is not a statistically significant increase, perhaps because some same sex cohabiting couples will have formed civil partnerships during this period.

Registration statistics on the number of civil partnerships formed and dissolved each year are available on the ONS website. An article describing civil partnerships five years after their introduction is available online (190.1 Kb Pdf) .

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Q4 Why are these statistics different to other statistics about households?

Household projections are produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Welsh Assembly Government, National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency for each of the constituent countries of the UK. There are many similarities but also some subtle differences between methods.

Broadly, the household projections are based on the national and sub-national population projections produced by ONS and the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The total number of people living in private households in each future year is estimated by taking the population projections for each year and subtracting the number of people estimated to be living in communal establishments, such as student halls of residence, care homes or prisons. In order to calculate the number of households, the population living in households is multiplied by the probability of anyone in a particular demographic group being part of a separate household. The aim of the projections is to help the government and developers plan the building of homes and infrastructure for future needs. Further information about the methods used to produce household projections is available on the Welsh Government website.

The ‘Families and Households’ estimates in this publication are based solely on the Labour Force Survey and aim to provide a snapshot of household sizes, household types and people in households for each year from 2001 to 2011. The estimates are produced consistently across the UK.

A paper comparing different sources of statistics on households is available online.

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Q5 How many families contain adult children / how many adults live with their parents?

Non-dependent children in families are those living with their parent(s), and either (a) aged 19 or over, or (b) aged 16 to 18 who are not in full-time education or who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household. Such children are often young adults, but may be older. Non-dependent children can live in families containing both dependent and non-dependent children, or in families containing only non-dependent children. In 2011, 3.7 million families contained at least one non-dependent child, up from 2.8 million families in 2001. In 2011, 4.7 million non-dependent children lived with at least one parent, an increase from 4.1 million non-dependent children in 2001.

Further information about young adults living with their parents can be found in the Population Trends article ‘The changing living arrangements of young adults in the UK’. (412.7 Kb Pdf)

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Q6 Who uses these statistics and what are they used for?

The statistics are aimed at those who want to improve their understanding of the UK’s families and households including:

  • Policy makers
  • MPs
  • Journalists
  • Charities
  • Businesses
  • Students
  • Researchers and academics
  • Members of the general public

Examples of how these statistics are used include:

  • Policy makers who use these statistics to determine how many people a particular policy may affect
  • Journalists and researchers who use the statistics to illustrate how and why families and households in the UK are changing
  • Businesses who use these statistics to help target their particular products
  • Charities who use the statistics to determine how many people may use their services.

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Q7 Where do these data come from?

The data are produced using the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The LFS is a household survey of people in the UK. Its primary purpose is to provide information on the UK labour market but it includes data on a variety of other variables such as family types and household types. The LFS covers people in private households, NHS accommodation and students in halls of residence whose parents live in the UK. Such students are captured through proxy interviews with their parents. People who live in other communal establishments are not covered.

The LFS household dataset is used for this publication. The household dataset differs from the person-level dataset in the way that the weighting is applied to the sample. The household dataset ensures that the weight given to each member of the same household is the same, whereas the person-level dataset, which is more commonly used for information on the labour market, includes only individual weights, which usually differ between members of the same household. The design of the household dataset is such that it gives the best estimate of families and households, as well as people in families and households.

The LFS household datasets are produced twice a year (one for the April to June quarter, and one for the October to December quarter). This publication uses the April to June quarter each year.

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Q8 Why are the estimates for families / households in 2010 different to what was published in April 2011?

Estimates of families and households are produced using the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The LFS is a household survey of people in the UK.

Weighting of the answers from respondents to the LFS ensures that the estimates are representative of the whole population. Each person in the survey has a weight, which is the number of people that person represents. In order to produce the weighted estimates, a multi-stage procedure is used: first weighting to population estimates for local authorities; then to national population estimates by sex and age group; then by sex, region and age group. There are many iterations of the procedure until the results are stable. There is also the additional constraint that weighting factors are the same for all members of a household.

The LFS needs to take account of the latest available population estimates, so the survey estimates are reweighted each year after population estimates are published. For this reason, the estimates for 2010 published in 2012 are not identical to the estimates for 2010 published in 2011.

The impact that this reweighting has had on the families and households estimates for 2010 is published online.

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Q9 How reliable are these statistics?

As estimates of the UK’s families and households are based on the LFS, all estimates produced are subject to sampling variability. This is because the sample selected is only one of a large number of possible samples that could have been drawn from the population.

Confidence intervals are commonly used as indicators of the extent to which the estimate based on a sample may differ from the true population value; the larger the confidence interval, the less precise the estimate is. Confidence intervals are shown alongside the estimates and the estimates themselves have been colour coded to indicate statistical robustness as follows:


Coefficient of variation Description Format
0 ≤ coefficient of variation < 5 Estimates are considered precise None
5 ≤ coefficient of variation < 10 Estimates are reasonably precise Light blue
10 ≤ coefficient of variation < 20 Estimates are considered acceptable Blue
Coefficient of variation ≥ 20 Estimates are not considered reliable for practical purposes Dark blue

The coefficient of variation is the ratio of the standard deviation of the data to the mean, and the smaller this value, the more accurate the estimate. The majority of estimates are precise but for some smaller groups the estimates are considered less precise.

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Q10 What is a family / dependent child / non-dependent child / household?

A family is a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent with at least one child. Children may be dependent or non-dependent.

Dependent children are those living with their parent(s) and either (a) aged under 16, or (b) aged 16 to 18 in full-time education, excluding children aged 16 to 18 who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household.

Non-dependent children are those living with their parent(s), and either (a) aged 19 or over, or (b) aged 16 to 18 who are not in full-time education or who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household. Non-dependent children are sometimes called adult children.

A household is defined as a person living alone, or a group of people living at the same address who have the address as their only or main residence and either share one main meal a day or share living accommodation (or both).

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Q11 When will these statistics be updated?

These statistics are intended to be updated annually, less than 12 months after the end of the April to June reference period. ONS intends to publish the statistics for 2012 around December 2012 / January 2013.

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Q12 I would like to provide feedback on these statistics. Who do I contact?

The Office for National Statistics would appreciate feedback on the uses made of the statistics and the usefulness of the information provided. Please email (preferred) or call 01329 444022 to provide feedback.

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Q13 I would like different statistics to those published. Who do I contact?

Special extracts and tabulations of families and / or households in the UK are available to order (subject to legal frameworks, disclosure control, resources and agreement of costs, where appropriate). A charge may be made for this service. Such enquiries should be made to:

Email: (preferred)
Telephone:    01329 444022

Demographic Analysis Unit
Population and Demography Division
Room 2300
Office for National Statistics
Segensworth Road
PO15 5RR

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