By Steve Doughty
Last updated at 7:56 AM on 20th January 2012
There are now nearly two million single parent families in Britain, official figures revealed yesterday.
The vast majority are headed by a mother, meaning that millions of children are being raised in households where there is no father.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, showed that more than one in four families – 26 per cent – are now led by a single parent.
Britain is the European leader when it comes to children being raised by just one parent.
Children who grow up in one-parent homes are more likely to suffer poor health, do badly at school and fall into crime or drug abuse when they are teenagers.
The latest figures show that the number of single parent families with dependent children in the UK went up from 1,745,000 in 2001 to 1,958,000 last year.
Over the same period, the number of co-habiting couples went up from 2.1million to 2.9million.
By contrast, the number of married couples dropped from 12.3million to 12million.
The ONS found that 92 per cent of lone parents are mothers and that ‘women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when relationships break down.’
The increase in co-habitation has been blamed for the rise in single-parent families because co-habitees are three times more likely to split up than married couples. Some 62 per cent of dependent children live in a married couple family, down from 68 per cent ten years ago.
The analysis, taken from the Labour Force Survey, also found that of the 114,000 same-sex couples in the country, 8,000 have children. Only 54,000 of these couples have legalised their relationship by taking out civil partnerships.
The spread of single parenthood brought fresh calls for David Cameron to bring forward his promised tax breaks for married couples.
Mr Cameron has delayed any tax breaks until, at the earliest, the run-up to the next election.
Author and researcher on family life Jill Kirby said: ‘It has looked for some time as if we are catching up with the United States as the country with the highest proportion of single parent families.
‘We are far ahead of European countries. Single parent families are nearly always led by a mother. Millions of children are missing the experience of having a committed father.
‘We have seen a very big increase in single parent families over the past 20 years.
‘It has gone alongside the decline of the married family, and it shows how co-habiting relationships have become the road to lone parenthood.’
‘Children will lose out badly unless the Government makes a real effort to boost married families.’
Mrs Kirby added: ‘Gay marriage is irrelevant to the fate of family life in this country.’