The family unit
At present, there are factors pulling in opposite directions in terms of the size of the British population. While the average lifespan has increased in the UK, British fertility rates have been steadily declining since the population boom of the immediate postwar years. A higher number of couples do not have children (20 per cent) and those that do generally have smaller families. This is largely attributed to both improvements in female education and career prospects and greater social acceptance of contraception. Childbearing is frequently postponed until the late twenties or early thirties (the average age of fathers at childbirth is now just over thirty) and the majority of women work outside of the home both before and after having children, regardless of marital status. Consequently, the often-quoted average British family with 2.4 children has now dwindled to 1.8: a trend which reflects the overall decline in the proportion of ‘conventional’ family units. Only 24 per cent of contemporary British households fall into the ‘two adults plus dependent children’ nuclear model, and this figure includes not only married couples but the increasing number of long-term cohabitees (who may decide not to marry for personal and ideological reasons, but also for financial ones as the average ‘white’ wedding in 2000 cost £13,723).