Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Outcomes: An Empirical Analysis of the Relationship between Marital Status and Child Outcomes in the UK Using the Millennium Cohort Study

23 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2013

See all articles by Claire Crawford

Claire Crawford

Institute for Fiscal Studies

Alissa Goodman

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

Ellen Greaves

Institute of Fiscal Studies

Rob Joyce

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

Date Written: 2012

Abstract

The proportion of children born to unmarried parents has risen dramatically over the past three decades; in 2010 just over three in ten of all live births in England and Wales were born to cohabiting couples. This significant change raises a number of important questions that cut across government policy areas and academic disciplines, perhaps the most fundamental of which is whether being born to cohabiting rather than married parents matters for children’s well-being. In this article we assess whether there are differences in early measures of cognitive and socio-emotional development between children born to cohabiting and married couples, and if so, whether marriage is the cause of these differences. We show that children born to married parents exhibit higher cognitive and socio-emotional development at ages 3 and 5, on average, than children born to cohabiting couples. We then adopt a systematic empirical approach to try to identify whether marriage is the cause of these differences, or whether they are in fact accounted for by other characteristics of the parents which happen to be correlated with marital status. As this empirical strategy involves some judgment on our part, we cannot claim a definitive answer. We do, however, regard our results as a strong indication that marriage plays a relatively small role, if any, in promoting children’s early cognitive or socio-emotional development.

Keywords: child law, family law, cohabitation, marriage, marital status

Suggested Citation

Crawford, Claire and Goodman, Alissa T. and Greaves, Ellen and Joyce, Rob, Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Outcomes: An Empirical Analysis of the Relationship between Marital Status and Child Outcomes in the UK Using the Millennium Cohort Study (2012). Child and Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 176-198, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2245029

Claire Crawford (Contact Author)

Institute for Fiscal Studies ( email )

7 Ridgmount Street
London, WC1E 7AE
United Kingdom

Alissa T. Goodman

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) ( email )

7 Ridgmount Street
London, WC1E 7AE
United Kingdom

Ellen Greaves

Institute of Fiscal Studies

7 Ridgmount Street
London, England WC1E 7AE
United Kingdom

Rob Joyce

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

7 Ridgmount Street
London, WC1E 7AE
United Kingdom

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