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Inequalities between families and generations now embedded and entrenched in society

27 February 2020

A new report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), produced in collaboration with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Understanding Society, reveals that inequalities between families and between generations are increasingly embedded in society.

  • Young people are at significant risk of following their parents into an adult life of poor health. Despite the high level of public concern about social mobility, the link between parent’s health and children’s health is stronger than the link between their wages. The picture differs across regions: in the North of England, the influence of parents’ mental health grew by 2% in the period 2010–2017, compared with a fall of 1% in the rest of England.
  • Increases in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are stalling, meaning people are spending more years of their lives in poor health. In the period 2012–14 and 2015–17, life expectancy at birth fell by almost 100 days for women living in the most deprived areas. This is in sharp contrast to the gain of 84 days amongst women living in the least deprived areas.
  • Having children later means many families now have ‘sandwich carers’ looking after both dependent children and parents, with an increase of over 59,000 people in the most recent year’s statistics. Sandwich carers are more likely to struggle financially – a third report they are ‘just about getting by’ – and are more likely to experience mental ill-health than the general population.
  • The importance of parental wealth for becoming a homeowner has increased over time. In 1991–2003, 19% of those whose parents were renters became homeowners by age 30. By 2004–2017, this had dropped to 9%.
  • Upward and downward income mobility is increasingly ‘sticky’ at the top and bottom of society. In the six years from 2011 to 2017, 45% of people at the bottom of society and 57% of people at the top remained in the same group, compared with just 29% in the middle.

Based on the findings, the report highlights a greater need for policy focus on modern families and the role the state, employers and civil society can play in strengthening them, including potentially:

  • A renewed consideration of issues affecting families – incorporating elements from welfare, employment, equality, social mobility, housing and health.
  • An approach to new policies and public service reforms that fully supports the development and progress of families across the lifecourse.

Guy Goodwin, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Social Research said: “The population is ageing and public spending on the elderly is expected to soar. It is likely the strains on public services will grow and families will increasingly have to bear the impact of rising social care demands and costs, unless there are successful policy interventions.” 

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK’s National Statistician and Permanent Secretary of the ONS said: “Our statistics have shown that social inequality continues to be a concern in our modern-day society. New data will prove essential to understanding the challenges and tackling these inequalities. The ONS is committed to developing new statistics, working with other organisations, to inform decisions and improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Raj Patel, Associate Director, Policy and Impact Fellow at Understanding Society said: “A healthy society now crucially depends on families. Negative impacts of long-term changes are becoming deeply rooted in society, with impacts for future generations and public services. We now need an approach to policy that thinks of key social risks faced by families and accommodates the dynamic, fluid and open-ended character of modern families.”

The full visual report is available here.