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Absent fathers, absent siblings: Two sides of lone parenthood for children


  • Tony Fahey

    (School of Applied Social Science, University College Dublin)

  • Patricia Keilthy

    (School of Applied Social Science, University College Dublin)


Children in lone parent families typically experience not only parental absence but also sibling absence: they are more likely to be sole offspring or to have fewer siblings than children of stable unions. Previous research has looked at these factors separately and suggests that they might work in opposite directions: negative effects on children’s development of parental absence (i.e. reduced supply of parenting) might be counter-balanced by positive effects of having fewer siblings (i.e. reduced demand for parenting). These patterns also have implications for social inequalities: union instability is more common among lower SES families and its fertility-limiting effects are also likely to be similarly stratified. This would tend to modify the historic association between lower SES and higher fertility, with resulting compositional effects on the population of vulnerable children. This paper explores these issues using data on nine year-old children and their families drawn from the Growing Up in Ireland survey. The findings confirm the sibling absence effect of union instability, the social gradient in that effect and tendency of sibling absence to counterbalance the negative parenting effect of union instability. The conclusion reached is that parental absence and lower sibling numbers should be recognised as two sides of lone parenthood for children and should both be taken into account in assessing the impact of lone parenthood on children.

Suggested Citation

  • Tony Fahey & Patricia Keilthy, 2013. "Absent fathers, absent siblings: Two sides of lone parenthood for children," Working Papers 201303, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucd:wpaper:201303

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Becker & H. Gregg Lewis, 1974. "Interaction between Quantity and Quality of Children," NBER Chapters,in: Economics of the Family: Marriage, Children, and Human Capital, pages 81-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Sara Mclanahan, 2004. "Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(4), pages 607-627, November.
    3. Jui-Chung Allen Li, 2006. "The institutionalization and pace of fertility in American stepfamilies," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 14(12), pages 237-266, March.
    4. Joshua Angrist & Victor Lavy & Analia Schlosser, 2010. "Multiple Experiments for the Causal Link between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(4), pages 773-824, October.
    5. Lee Lillard & Linda Waite, 1993. "A joint model of marital childbearing and marital disruption," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 30(4), pages 653-681, November.
    6. Russell, Helen & Maître, Bertrand & Nolan, Brian, 2010. "Monitoring Poverty Trends in Ireland 2004-2007: Key Issues for Children, People of Working Age and Older People," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number RS17.
    7. Lucia Coppola & Mariachiara Di Cesare, 2008. "How fertility and union stability interact in shaping new family patterns in Italy and Spain," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 18(4), pages 117-144, March.
    8. Vegard Skirbekk, 2008. "Fertility trends by social status," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 18(5), pages 145-180, March.
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    More about this item


    lone parenthood; fathers; siblings; children; Ireland;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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