British Culture


The average British family has classically been understood as a with the extended family living separately. However, today the archetypical family (husband, wife and children) can no longer be the exact social expectation as divorce, remarriage, cohabitation of couples and births outside of marriage have become more common. According to the Office for National Statistics, more children are being raised in single parent households. The number of same-sex families have also increased by 40% since 2015, following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England Wales and Scotland in 2014.1


However, while the traditional archetypal British family structure is no longer an expected cultural standard, the family remains fundamentally important to individuals throughout their life. The unique personal relationships that family members share and the support they receive from one another is considered the main form of the value of family membership.


The preference for most British families is to have a small family unit. This allows mobility and relieves economic pressure over a parent’s lifetime. Government studies show that most problems facing British families relate to being financially stretched. Parents often make strategic choices about their children's education to secure a good economic future for them. Children are encouraged to be independent and self-reliant at an early age. However, more adult children are living with their parents for economic reasons than ever before.


The average ages at which family life-events occur (e.g. marriage, children, retirement) are rising, as people are tending to wait until later in life to have children. This reflects the growing orientation of both men and women – particularly of the middle class – to want to establish a career for themselves and travel before starting a family. Women tend to be much older when they have their first child than previous generations, the average age being 29. As a result of this older age of conception, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is becoming more common. The state pension is granted at 67 for men and 65 for women. However, it is now common for people to work later into life and remain in the British workforce for several more years after the age of retirement.


Gender Roles

British society has traditionally viewed men as the breadwinners of the family, while women were seen as the homemakers and primary caretakers of children. Such attitudes towards female gender roles have changed significantly since the mid 20th century. For example, there’s now almost universal support for female participation in the labour force and political office. However, while women enjoy equal rights and the opportunity to choose their form of contribution to the household dynamic, traditional views on family and household duties prevail. As a result, women on average earn less and have reduced work hours in order to be the primary caretakers of children. 


Marriage and Dating

British dating practices are similar to those of other English-speaking western cultures. It is common for couples to meet though their social circles, workplaces or hobbies. Online dating services are popular amongst several age groups. Younger people may use free apps for casual dating, whilst middle-aged adults or elderly people looking to find serious or long-term partners tend to prefer dating websites that require paid membership.


Dates usually happen in contexts that allow for the couple to engage in enough conversation to get to know one another (for example, over a meal or drink). It is common for a British person to ‘date’ or get to know multiple people at once over a period of time without having an exclusive relationship with any of those people. If feelings develop for a particular person, they usually stop meeting new dates or seeing others. Instead they usually pursue that one person until he or she agrees to be in a committed relationship with them or indicates they are not interested.


While unmarried cohabitation and divorce have increased, British people remain committed and dedicated to partnership. Emphasis is placed on a couple’s intimate love for one another, rather than the social expectations of a marriage contract. The average British couple will be in a relationship for multiple years and live together before getting married. This varies significantly between individual circumstances and family backgrounds. The average age of (first) marriage is 33 for men and 30 for women. 


Almost half of British marriages end in divorce. However, the institution of marriage is still dominant and highly valued. It is expected in society that any strong couple will want to ‘take that step’. Nevertheless, some couples choose not to marry and remain in a de facto partnership whilst maintaining the same function and relationship as a married couple. 



1 Office for National Statistics, 2019

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