The number of families with children lowest in decades

Authors: Marjut Pietiläinen and Timo Nikander

At the end of 2010, the number of families with children totalled 582,000. This represents the lowest figure ever recorded in the statistics, with a decline of 1,800 from the year before. Over the long term, there has been a clear reduction in the number of families. Twenty years ago in 1990, the total number of families with children was still 640,637, and approximately one half of the population were part of a family with children. Today, 41 per cent of the Finnish population belong to a family with children.

Figure 1. Development of the number of families with children 1950−2010

Source: Statistics Finland, Population Statistics

Married couple with children remains the most common family type

The most common type of family with children is that consisting of a married couple and children. At the end of 2010, they accounted for 61 per cent of families with children. The proportion of families consisting of a cohabiting couple and children was 18 per cent. The number of families made up of a couple in a registered partnership and children was 267.

The number of single-parent families with children totalled 117,800 at the end of 2010, representing one out of five of all families with children. Of single-parent families with children, 87 per cent consisted of a mother and children, while the number of those made up of a father and children was extremely low. In the family statistics, a single-parent family is categorised based on the parent with whom the children officially live. It is not possible to take joint custody into account in the statistics.

Table 1. Families with children by type 1950−2010

1950 1960 1970* 1980** 1990 2000 2010
Total 599,329 678,046 677,035 688,732 640,637 612,627 582,360
Married couple and children 515,115 601,542 602,076 572,142 490,999 398,892 356,943
Cohabiting couple and children .. .. 5,800 32,100 59,900 95,120 107,368
Mother and children 74,319 67,381 61,173 74,839 78,948 103,984 101,946
Father and children 9,895 9,123 7,986 9,651 10,790 14,631 15,836
Couple in a registered partnership
and children
.. .. .. .. .. .. 267
Per cent
Married couple and children 85.9 88.7 88.9 83.1 76.6 65.1 61.3
Cohabiting couple and children .. .. 0.9 4.7 9.4 15.5 18.4
Mother and children 12.4 9.9 9 10.9 12.3 17 17.5
Father and children 1.7 1.3 1.2 1.4 1.7 2.4 2.7
Couple in a registered partnership
and children
.. .. .. .. .. .. 0
*) The breakdown of the census by type of family has been revised
on the basis of interview surveys (Aromaa, Cantell, Jaakkola: Avoliitto (Consensual Union),
Research Institute of Legal Policy 49, Helsinki 1981).
**) The breakdown of the census by type of family has been revised
on the basis of the 1981 register-based material on families and cohabiting couples.

Source: Statistics Finland, Population Statistics

Share of families consisting of a married couple and children declining

A family consisting of a married couple and children still remains the most common type of family with children, but the proportion of this type has been declining steadily over the last few decades. At the end of 1970, 89 per cent of families with children consisted of a married couple and children, while the proportion of this family type in families with children is currently as low as 61 per cent.

The proportion of families consisting of a cohabiting couple and children has doubled in twenty years. In 1970, only one per cent of families with children consisted of cohabiting couples and children. This proportion has been increasing steadily decade by decade, with the exception of the 2000s, when its growth slowed down slightly. At the end of 2010, this figure was 18 per cent.

The change in the demographic structure has reduced the number of families with children. The children of the large age groups born in 1945 – 1950 have grown up and moved out. The status of their parents has thus changed from a family with children into a family of two adults in the statistics (married couple/cohabiting couple/couple in a registered partnership without children). Even if a child remains living with his or her parents after becoming of age, the family is no longer recorded as a family with children in the statistics, if no children under the age of 18 now live in the family.

Divorces, too, play a role in the trends of family types. In case of a divorce, or separation of a cohabiting couple, one of the parents (most frequently the father) moves out by him/herself, and the children remain living with the other parent. Those living alone are not recorded in the family population statistics.

The share of single-parent families has increased over the last few decades. Previously, the term single supporter families was used, but as a result of social changes and custody issues, the concept of single-parent families has been introduced in the statistics. It is not possible to take joint custody, for example, into account in the statistics.

The share of families made up of a father and children has remained rather low in the last few decades, even if in relative terms their proportion has undergone a strong growth. Only three per cent of families with children consist of a father and children. The share of families consisting of a mother and children in families with children has increased more clearly, with rather a steady progress from the nine per cent in 1970 to the current 18 per cent.

Families of married couples still most commonly have two children

At the end of 2010, 41 per cent of families with children made up of a married couple and children had two children, while 36 per cent had one and 22 per cent had at least three children. In this connection, as children are defined those under the age of 18 living at home. Of other types of families with children, more than a half have one child. Nearly one third of families made up of a mother and children have two children, even if the majority of one-parent families have one child.

Table 2. Number of children aged under 18 in families with children by family type on 31 December 2010

Total 1 2 3-
Total 582,360 254,551 222,596 105,213
Married couple and children 356,943 129,766 147,768 79,409
Couple in a registered partnership and children 267 163 83 21
Cohabiting couple and children 107,368 55,450 39,029 12,889
Mother and children 101,946 58,377 31,681 11,888
Father and children 15,836 10,795 4,035 1,006
%
Total 100 43.7 38.2 18.1
Married couple and children 100 36.4 41.4 22.2
Couple in a registered partnership and children 100 61.0 31.1 7.9
Cohabiting couple and children 100 51.6 36.4 12.0
Mother and children 100 57.3 31.1 11.7
Father and children 100 68.2 25.5 6.4

Source: Statistics Finland, Population Statistics

A family with children today has an average of 1.83 children. At the end of 2010, the highest number of children in a family with children was fifteen children under 18. Comparing the average number of children in different periods does not make sense, as this figure is influenced by variations in the sizes of age groups who are in the different stages of bringing up a family.

10 per cent of families with children have a foreign background

A total of 90 per cent of families with children have two parents born in Finland, or a single parent born in Finland. In some three per cent (2.9%) of families with children, the father was born in Finland, while the mother was born in another country. The share of families consisting of a mother born in Finland and a father born in another country is very similar (2.5%). In approximately five per cent of families with children, both parents, or the only parent, were born outside Finland.

Slightly more than 18 per cent of families with children with a foreign background (Figure 2; at least one parent, or the only parent, born outside Finland) are single-parent families, and as many as 92 per cent of these single-parent families consist of a mother and children. Quantitatively, the number of families consisting of mothers born in the former Soviet Union and their children is the highest, or 2,700. The second most frequent are single-parent families of mothers born in Sweden and Estonia.

In families with children where both parents were born abroad, the parents were most frequently born in the former Soviet Union, Estonia, former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Somalia.

Figure 2. Families with children where at least one parent was born outside Finland, 31 December 2010

Source: Statistics Finland, Population Statistics

Changing definitions

The family was introduced as a statistical unit for the first time in the census of 1950. Before this year, censuses carried out in the largest towns had published quantitative figures on heads of families and other family members, but these data did not provide a picture of the family size and structure.

Over sixty decades, there has been little change in the definition of a family in censuses. On the other hand, minor changes have taken place in the family type classification and the concept of a child, of which the family type in particular affects the picture we form of the composition of families and families with children.

As a family is regarded persons permanently living in the same household-dwelling unit, while a person who is temporarily absent is considered part of the family. A family can consist of no more than two successive generations. If several families live in a household-dwelling unit, the family is formed starting with the youngest generation.

As early as in the definition used for the 1950 census, a family consisted of: 1) parents or one parent only and their or his/her child/children who live at home or 2) married couples without children. "Unmarried couples and their children" were also included as families, while their number was included in married couples.

It was not until the census of 1980 that "cohabiting couples with common children" were recorded as a family type of its own. It took another ten years before families with a mother or a father and children that include a cohabiting partner living in the same household-dwelling unit were given the status of a family consisting of a cohabiting couple and children. This reduces the number of single-parent families and increases the number of two-parent ones.

Until 1990, the spouses' unmarried biological and adopted children living at home and one spouse's biological and adopted children regardless of age were defined as children of the family. The definition of a child subsequently changed, now referring to a person living with his/her parents regardless of his/her marital status, provided that he/she does not have a spouse or children in the same household-dwelling unit. This has no bearing to the definition or composition of families with children, as a family with children is one where at least one child under the age of 18 is living at home.

The authors: Marjut Pietiläinen is Planner and Timo Nikander is Senior Statistician at the Population Statistics department of Statistics Finland.

Sources: Statistics Finland, Population Statistics


Last updated 29.8.2011

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