Household Structure and Distribution


Driver description
Interactions within the Social Domain
Interactions with the Economy Domain
Interactions with the Environment Domain
Interactions with the Technology Domain
Impacts on Mobility and Transport

Driver description

  • “Another social indicator of potential relevance for mobility is household size and typology as household arrangements (and more specifically whether people live alone or in larger families) influence mobility patterns and, especially, motorisation.” (Ref: CO_2041)
  • “European men and women are having children later in their lives because they have more life choices combined with highly effective means of controlling their fertility. (...) The increased participation in higher education and training that has occurred in most European nations (...), as well as accrual of qualifications to meet the demands of modern economies, have lead to an extension of the period of dependency in the third decade of life. Consequently, the time span of the transition to adulthood, from leaving education, entering the labor market and marrying and becoming parents has become more protracted” (Kiernan, 2003, p. 30).” (Ref: CO_2018)
  • “Family size is declining both because of the fall in fertility rates and because fewer generations are living together under the same roof. The two-generation family and cohabiting couple has become the norm for private life, with the result that family solidarity is being placed under strain, especially in caring for older people. In addition, the increase in the number of women in employment observed everywhere, although at different speeds and intensity across countries, is contributing to the spread of dual-earner families.” (Ref: CO_0083)
Figure 1‑14 Average number of people per household, by country

Source: Sustainable development in the European Union (Ref: CO_0197)
  • “The increase in single households is a common phenomenon in European cities. In particular, the numbers of households with a single adult under the age of 35, and between 35 and 64 years, are both increasing. The number of trips per person varies according to household size, with single households usually making the highest number of trips. The rising number of young single households, together with the growing number of active older people, partly explains the strong rise in journeys associated with leisure activities which can be witnessed in many cities.” (Ref: CO_0079)
  • “Single-adult households among the 65+ age group are most common in the Nordic and North-Western groups of countries (where divorce is relatively common and where it is relatively unusual for older people to live with children or other relatives) and least common in the Southern countries (where divorce rates remain low, and where it is common for older people to live with adult children). Couple-only households where at least one partner is aged 65 or over are most common in the Southern European countries (low divorce rates) and least common in Eastern Europe (high divorce rates, and a high incidence of multigenerational households).” (Ref: CO_0084)

Among the new and rare family forms, the growing phenomenon of “Commuter Families” has to be taken into account, especially given its impact on mobility patterns.  Commuter families are generally couples which do not live in the same household.  These might be also families with children. Unfortunately current statistical data does not allow for a complete description of this phenomenon. The data of the Gender and Generation Survey (GGS) provide a first database to describe, at least to some extent, this family form, even though it is not possible to differentiate specific details, e.g. how long the partnership lasts or how often the partner is commuting.

Interactions within the Social Domain

Income structure and distribution

  • “Household structures have changed profoundly over the past decades in OECD countries. There are more single-headed households with and without children today than ever before; their share among working-age households has increased in all OECD countries, on average from 15% in the late 1980s to 20% in the mid-2000s. Smaller households are less able to benefit from the savings associated with pooling resources and sharing expenditures. A trend toward smaller households therefore is likely to increase earnings and income inequality.” (Ref: CO_0157)

Car ownership

  • “Household structure is an important driver for the overall mobility of the population. A household is a typical unit owning a car or having access to a car, with the household members sharing the car. The general tendency has been a decrease in household size, and UN projections envisage (United Nations, 2003) a further decrease in EU 27 from 2.4 in 2005 to 2.1 in 2030. These figures indicate that, irrespective of an almost constant total population, there will be an increase in number of households. If the current trends in household car ownership continue, an increase in the car fleet may be estimated.” (Ref: CO_5048)


  • “Re-urbanisation is facilitated by the decline of household size – single or two persons households have a higher propensity to locate in the urban centres.” (Ref: CO_5048)
  • “During the next two decades demand for large-lot housing will decline slightly, but demand for small lot and attached housing will approximately double; these trends are likely to increase urbanization in two ways: more redevelopment of existing urban neighbourhoods, and suburbs developing into towns and cities.” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “Major factors affecting households’ choices of residence are the affordability of available properties, the match between neighbourhood amenities and their lifestyle aspirations, and the cost and convenience of travelling to work.” (Ref: CO_0260)
  • “Households make choices between residential areas taking into account the price of housing and the price of commuting between the work place and home. When travel costs fall below a certain threshold and income reaches a certain level the rate of sprawl quickens, and unsurprisingly sprawl is more common in regions where incomes are high and commuting costs are low.” (Ref: CO_0028)
  •  “In the inner city, poor quality neighbourhoods often house a mix of unemployed people, the elderly poor, single young people and minority ethnic groups, often suffering from the impacts of the selective nature of migration and employment loss.” (Ref: CO_0028)
  • “The socio‑economic character of suburban and peripheral areas is typified by middle and upper income families with children, who have the necessary mobility and lifestyle to enable them to function effectively in these localities. However, the suburban experience for other groups, including the young and old, who lack mobility and resources can be very different and can reduce social interaction. Furthermore, large segments of urban society are excluded from living in such areas.” (Ref: CO_0028)


  • “Housing market demand analysis based on consumer preference surveys indicates that during the next two decades demand for large-lot housing will decline slightly so current supply is sufficient to meet future needs, but demand for small lot and attached housing will approximately double.” (Ref: CO_5047)

Interactions with the Economy Domain


  • “Unemployment has been and still is falling, and employment both of men and women has been increasing. The proportion of lone parents in employment has been rising. The proportion of households without a person in employment is also falling, though it remains high.” (Ref: CO_0176)

Interactions with the Environment Domain

Energy availability, production and consumption

  • “Changes in lifestyle associated with urban sprawl contribute as well to increases in resource use. (...) people are living increasingly in individual households, which tend to be less efficient, requiring more resources per capita than larger households. For instance, a two person household uses 300 litres of water per day, two single households use 210 litres each. A two person household will use 20 % less energy than two single person households. The number of households grew by 11 % between 1990 and 2000, a trend that increases land use and acts as a driver for expansion of urban areas. The general trend is for greater consumption of resources per capita with an associated growth in environmental impact. This adds pressure to the fact that about 60 % of large European cities are already overexploiting their groundwater resources and water availability.” (Ref: CO_0028)

Interactions with the Technology Domain

No particularly relevant interrelationships have been found.

Impacts on Mobility and Transport

Higher traffic densities in urban and suburban environments

  • “Changing household structures result in the decrease of the average household size. This results in lower car occupancy. Assuming that (a) the motorisation rate continues to increase and (b) car-sharing schemes do not increase in significance, we can expect the changing household structures to lead to higher traffic densities in urban and suburban environments.” (Ref: CO_2041)