Growing up in a One-Parent Family: Families and Child Wellbeing

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:42 AM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Carmel HANNAN , Sociology, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

A large body of international literature has documented that children who grow up living with both biological parents fare better on a range of outcomes when compared to children not living with both biological parents. Researchers continue to disagree as to whether the association represents a true causal effect. The Irish case is particularly interesting given the selective nature of non-marriage.



This article extends the literature in this area by employing propensity score matching using data from the first wave of the Growing up in Ireland child cohort study. We compare a range of child and family outcomes between a series of treatment groups (cohabiting parents, never-married one-parent families and step families) and a control group of married biological parents using semi-parametric estimators.



Marriage has significant positive effects on child health outcomes, educational scores and psychological wellbeing. Selection effects however account for a non-trivial proportion of the differences in child outcomes at age 9 across families but hidden bias remains an important issue. The main finding is that the socioeconomic disadvantages inherent in childbearing outside of marriage account for a non-trivial portion of the effects of family type.



The selection argument assessed in this paper maintains that childbearing outside of marriage does not necessarily cause negative consequences for child development. The majority of Irish mothers who give birth outside a traditional married setting come from impoverished backgrounds so that much of the adverse consequences on child development are an artefact of pre-existing socioeconomic disadvantages resultant in different lifestyles, including factors such as rates of smoking during pregnancy and lower rates of breastfeeding.