Children and Families Policy Research Unit


NIHR Children and Families Policy Research Unit


Case Study: The Healthy Child

Family formations and health: how and why family structure affects children's health

The Healthy Child

Does family structure impact physical and mental health in children?

Around one quarter of UK children live in lone parent families, and there are over half a million step-families. So, any impact that family structure might have on a child's well-being would have far-reaching consequences on a country-wide scale.

Under the healthy child theme, the CPRU set out to explore the health impacts of family structure, in order to inform the development of welfare policy that best supports equal life opportunities for all UK children.

Key Points:

  • Data analysis examined the health of children in different family structures: families with both natural parents, lone parent families and step-families 
  • Physical health was worse in children who lived with a lone parent or in step-families, but these small differences were accounted for by the fact that lone parents and step families tend to be poorer
  • Children's mental well-being was worse in step-families, and in other families where there had been family disruption, even after taking account of their increased risk of disadvantage

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Publication date: 2017