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Today's 'unconventional' families were the Victorian norm

The prevalence of single-parent households and ‘boomerang’ children may seem like a modern phenomenon, but new research has revealed that these ‘unconventional’ households are actually deep-rooted in British history.

A study of historic Census records from the 1800s, by the family history website Ancestry.co.uk, has found that many of today’s non-typical families, such as couples with large age gaps, were actually considerably more common 200 years ago.

Couples with ten or more years between them nowadays comprise one in 12 households (8%), yet there were twice as many during the 1800s (16%).

Another trend observed in the study was the prevalence of single-parent households during the Victorian era. While today around 5% of households are single parent families, analysis of the 1841 Census reveals that back then a staggering one in six (16%) households had just one parent.

Unlike modern single-parent households, the reason for a lone mother or father was often mortality rather than the relationship breaking down, with deaths resulting from childbirth or workplace accidents more common than divorce.

The only ‘unconventional’ household found to be more prominent today than during the Victorian era is the number of non-married, cohabiting couples. During the 1800s women often got married in their teens or early twenties, while today the average woman is 30 before she ties the knot.

Cohabiting couples comprised around 1% of households during the 19th century, compared to 10% today.

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