Impact of marital status on children’s lives ‘over-estimated’, according to new study

A new study suggests policies aimed at promoting marriage are misinformed as the marital status of parents has less of an impact on the lives of children than other factors.

Impact of marital status on children’s lives ‘over-estimated’, according to new study

A study published in the Economic and Social Review by academics from the University of Limerick claims “much of the benefits of marriage are not related to marriage per se but to the socio-economic background of mothers”.

One of the co-authors, UL sociology lecturer Dr Brendan Halpin, said more focus could be placed on keeping young girls in education and supporting families in straitened financial circumstances.

Dr Halpin, along with fellow sociology lecturer Dr Carmel Hannan, wrote the study entitled The Influence of Family Structures on Family Outcomes: Evidence for Ireland.

It is based on detailed analysis of a number of data sources including the Growing Up in Ireland Child Cohort Study and census information.

In effect, it outlines how outcomes for children in two-parent families may be worse than for children in single-parent families, but that this has little to do with the marital status of the parent(s) and more to do with what Dr Halpin called their “prior characteristics”, such as their own level of educational attainment and their own family background.

Citing the Growing Up in Ireland study, which captured snapshots of children at age nine, the report states: “We find that, on average, non-marriage has negative effects on a child’s educational development at age 9 but the effects are smaller in relation to health outcomes and the child’s self-concept.”

However, in its conclusions the report states there can be an “over-estimation of the negative effects of lone parenthood in models which do not take account of background factors.”

Dr Halpin said: “The policy implication is you would want to support people, especially young girls at risk of exiting education and becoming single parents.

“What we are reasonably clear about is in a situation where you have two parents but they are not married, getting them to marry will make no difference at all.”

He added that policies to promote marriage would be “misinformed” and that promoting better attitudes to education would be more beneficial.

To read the report in full, click here.

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