account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate delete document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share star-full star-open startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Child development and marital status

Researchers: Professor Alissa Goodman

Project overview


The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) examined data on 10,000 three and five year olds and concluded that developmental differences between children born to married parents and those born to unmarried parents are not primarily accounted for by marital status, but determined by other factors, such as parental age, education, and income.

Factors such as education, income and occupation are significant in whether people choose to marry or to cohabit, which is why it can appear that children born to married parents achieve better outcomes, but the evidence shows that once these differences in parental characteristics are accounted for, parents’ marital status appears to have little or no impact on children’s cognitive development. Even in the case of children’s social and behavioural outcomes, where relationship quality is important, the question is whether marriage causes or results from better quality relationships.

Additional analysis

The IFS undertook additional analysis using a different dataset to ensure the effect of marriage had not been underestimated.

Researchers used data from parents’ own childhoods to identify difference between couples before they entered before they entered into the relationship into which their child was born. After controlling for these differences, they found no significant difference in the development of children born to married parents and those born to cohabiting parents.

Researchers found that parental cognitive ability was the most significant factor in children’s development. The higher average cognitive ability of married parents over cohabiting ones explains about one fifth of the gap in the cognitive development of children.

Latest on this project


Team


  • Professor Alissa Goodman
    Institute for Fiscal Studies

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

New

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Public expenditure planning and control in complex times

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

How UK welfare reform affects larger families

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2019 - 2022

Children living with domestic violence: effects on children’s well-being

View project
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2020

Education priorities in a forthcoming general election

View project
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Exploring the impact of curriculum policy on choice, attainment and destinations

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Public expenditure planning and control in complex times

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Young-child-blurred-in-background-plays-with-abacus-in-foreground-Early-years-employment-pathways-PROJ
New

Education | 2019 - 2020

A systematic review of early years degrees and employment pathways

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
man reading picture book to baby
New

Education | 2019 - 2022

Do infants learn new words from educational picture books?

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

How UK welfare reform affects larger families

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2020

Education priorities in a forthcoming general election

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Public expenditure planning and control in complex times

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

How UK welfare reform affects larger families

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Exploring the impact of curriculum policy on choice, attainment and destinations

View project
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2022

The SWAN game-based approach to learning foundational number language

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2019 - 2022

Children living with domestic violence: effects on children’s well-being

View project
Maths resit students taking exam
Reported

Education | 2019 - 2020

A new mathematics GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2018

GCSE and A-level results day project

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Interdisciplinary conference on evidence use in policy

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2019

Developing a sustainable intervention for disadvantaged children

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Council tax support schemes’ impact on claimants & local authorities

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Improving survey representation of non-resident parents

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Addressing the ‘care cases’ crisis: a sector-led review

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Vulnerable migrants and well-being: A pilot study

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Benchmarking transparency in government’s use of evidence

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2017 - 2017

General Election 2017

View project
Siblings play ball in a playground - Siblings Contact and the Law
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Siblings, contact and the law: an overlooked relationship?

View project
Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

Profile