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Understanding the risk of social exclusion across the life course: Families with children

Published: July 2010


We wanted to gain a better understanding of the combinations of disadvantages that families with children experience. The study also aimed to identify the types of families most at risk of social exclusion. Little work had been done previously to explore ‘multiple disadvantage’.


Approximately two thirds (67%) of families were experiencing at least one factor, which could put them at risk of disadvantage. Almost half (45%) of families were experiencing multiple risk factors (i.e. two or more measures of potential disadvantage). Just over one in ten (12%) of families had five or more risk factors. Very few families (2%) were experiencing 10 or more.

Nine types of multiply disadvantaged families were found. These included:

  • ‘Severely excluded families’ (5%), who had, on average, nine risk factors

  • ‘Deprived families with no private transport’ experienced five risk markers on average and accounted for 8% of families
  • ‘Families lacking social participation’ accounted for 4%, with an average of four risk factors

The research findings support existing evidence that poor outcomes are more likely for children from multiply-disadvantaged families.

A small proportion of families (between four and seven per cent) were found to experience persistent multiple disadvantage.

Drivers of multiple disadvantage

Families that experienced persistent multiple disadvantage were more likely to:

  • be headed by a lone parent
  • consist of four or more children
  • be headed by young mothers or mothers from Black ethnic groups
  • live in social rented property
  • live in urban areas

Families successful in making a transition out of multiple disadvantage had experienced major life events like finding a partner or entering employment. Conversely, events associated with the onset of social exclusion included recent job loss and relationship break up.


Data from the Families and Children Study were analysed and eighteen factors, that places families at risk of disadvantage, were constructed. The factors ranged from income poverty to overcrowding at home.  

Read the report