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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 16:12 GMT
Living alone is 'the norm'
The study says there are fewer families with children
For the first time more people are living alone, or as a single parent, than in a traditional family unit, according to new research.

The study of how family life has changed since the 1960s - carried out by The Future Foundation - found that living alone is now the norm in the UK.

It also found there are now fewer families with children than ever before, but those who do have children spend more time with them.

31 mins a day with children
10 mins a week exercising
25 mins a week entertaining
100 mins a day cooking
13 hours a week cleaning
26 mins a week cooking

Just 40 years ago the traditional family unit household made up half of all households in the UK, according to the study.

Researchers questioned three generations of families on their attitudes to family, finances and parenting.

They found that although there may be fewer traditional family households in the UK, relationships appear closer than ever before.

Families are spending significantly more time together than past generations, according to the findings.

Excluding time spent eating together, today's parents spend an hour and a quarter a day with their children compared with only 31 minutes in 1961.

Janet Connor, of Abbey National, which commissioned the study, said: "Our findings point to an interesting paradox: as singleton and childfree family units fast become the norm, there are fewer families in the traditional sense of the word.

Living longer

"However, the conventional family - albeit there are less of them - is perhaps a closer unit than ever before with more quality time spent on parenting and relationships.

"The changing shape of the UK family means businesses and society will need to carefully reappraise their understanding of family life."

Jill Keep, spokeswoman for the National Family and Parenting Institute, said the changes should not be over estimated.

"There are profound changes in family structure that have happened over the last 40 year but the majority of people in this country are still married," she said.

'Family breakdown'

"We also should remember that people are living longer and there is quite a long period after your children have left home when you would be classified as living in a single household."

But Dr Clifford Hill, from the Family Matters Institute, said an attitude change was needed to strengthen traditional family life.

"A first step toward strengthening family life and protecting children has to be recognition of the affect of family breakdown and its cost both financially and in human suffering," he said.

"Above all a cultural change is needed at grassroots level to strengthen family life, which is the foundation of a stable, prosperous and caring society."

75 mins a day with children
60 mins a week exercising
55 mins a week entertaining
73 mins a day cooking
6 hours a week cleaning
27 mins a week cooking
The survey also found that parents spend an average of 15 minutes a day helping their children with homework compared with virtually no time in 1961.

In addition, almost a fifth of all families today sit down to a home-cooked dinner every night of the week compared with only 12% of families in the 1960s.

Despite the increase in time spent with children, parents today have also created more time for themselves with the use of time-saving technologies and by the outsourcing of domestic chores.

In 1961 cleaning and laundry took up nearly 13 hours of a woman's week. Today this has halved to just over six hours.

Time spent cooking has decreased for mothers, down from more than one hour and 40 minutes in 1961 to just over an hour today.

At the same time, fathers have actually marginally increased their time in the kitchen from 26 to 27 minutes a week.

Modern parents are using this extra time to enrich their life. Time spent exercising and entertaining friends and family at home has risen.

The BBC's James Westhead
"The research reflects a seismic shift in society in little more than a generation"

One's company
Should we worry about the rise in living alone?
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