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The Influence of Family Structure on Child Outcomes: Evidence for Ireland


  • Carmel Hannan
  • Brendan Halpin

    (University of Limerick)


A large body of international literature has documented a correlation between nontraditional family structure and poorer child outcomes, yet researchers continue to disagree as to whether the association represents a true causal effect. This article extends this literature by employing propensity score matching using the first wave of data from the Growing up in Ireland child cohort study. We argue that the Irish case is of particular interest given the highly selective nature of non-marriage. We find that, on average, non-marriage has negative effects on a child educational development at age 9 but the effects are smaller in relation to health outcomes and the child’s self-concept. However, selection effects account for a non-trivial proportion of the differences in child outcomes across lone-mother and cohabiting families although hidden bias remains an important issue. This has important implications for policies which promote marriage as the key to child development as it appears that much of the benefits of marriage are not related to marriage per se but to the socio-economic background of mothers.

Suggested Citation

  • Carmel Hannan & Brendan Halpin, 2014. "The Influence of Family Structure on Child Outcomes: Evidence for Ireland," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 45(1), pages 1-24.
  • Handle: RePEc:eso:journl:v:45:y:2014:i:1:p:1-24

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marco Francesconi & Stephen P. Jenkins & Thomas Siedler, 2010. "The effect of lone motherhood on the smoking behavior of young adults," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(11), pages 1377-1384.
    2. Fahey, Tony & Russell, Helen, 2001. "Family Formation in Ireland Trends, Data Needs and Implications: Report to Family Affairs Unit, Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number PRS43, March.
    3. Michael Gerfin & Michael Lechner, 2002. "A Microeconometric Evaluation of the Active Labour Market Policy in Switzerland," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(482), pages 854-893, October.
    4. Lunn, Pete & Fahey, Tony, 2011. "Households and Family Structures in Ireland," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number BKMNEXT202, March.
    5. Dohoon Lee, 2010. "The early socioeconomic effects of teenage childbearing," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 23(25), pages 697-736.
    6. Lunn, Pete & Fahey, Tony & Hannan, Carmel, 2010. "Family Figures: Family Dynamics and Family Types in Ireland, 1986-2006," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number BKMNEXT29, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Watson, Dorothy & Maitre, Bertrand & Whelan, Christopher T. & Russell, Helen, 2016. "Social Risk and Social Class Patterns in Poverty and Quality of Life in Ireland, 2004-2013," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number BKMNEXT328, March.

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    family; children; Ireland;


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