Children with younger mothers face much tougher start in life, study shows

15 October 2010

Children born to younger mothers may need additional government support if they are to fulfil their potential, a new report suggests.

Researchers who are tracking the development of youngsters born in the UK between 2000 and 2002 have found that children with younger mothers have had a much more difficult start in life, on average, than those with older parents.

Their comparison of seven-year-olds with mothers aged under 30 or over 40 reveals that children with younger mothers are:

  • far less likely to have married natural parents (19%, compared with 68% of children with older mothers)
  • more than seven times as likely to have stepfathers (15%:2%)
  • more than twice as likely to be living in a lone-mother family (39%:15%).

Researchers at the Institute of Education, University of London, who analysed information gathered on more than 14,000 children taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study, found that those with younger mothers have also had to cope with far more upheaval than other children during their first seven years. Four in ten children with mothers aged under 30 (39%) experienced a significant family change, such as the arrival of a stepfather, compared with only 13 per cent of youngsters with mothers aged 40 and over.

“Living apart from natural fathers can be associated with poverty and negative outcomes for children,” says Lisa Calderwood, of the Institute’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies. “As these experiences are particularly concentrated among children of young mothers these findings provide support for policies aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy. They also indicate that families with young parents may benefit from further targeted government support.”

The study’s latest survey, conducted in 2008/9, shows that ethnic background, as well as mother’s age, is strongly related to the type of family a child is brought up in. About nine in ten Indian (89%) and Bangladeshi (90%) seven-year-olds were living with both natural parents who were, in almost all cases, married to each other. By contrast, black Caribbean children were the most likely to be living in a lone-parent family (50%) and were the least likely to have married natural parents (23%).

Overall, just over one in five of the Millennium children (22%) were living in a lone-mother family and over one in twenty (6 per cent) were being brought up by a natural mother and stepfather. Around seven in ten children (69%) were living with both natural parents, with just over half (55%) living with married natural parents.

The proportion of children living with married natural parents was considerably higher in Northern Ireland (61%) than in England (55%), Scotland (53%) and Wales (51%).

The study’s latest report also shows that the proportion of children living with both natural parents has been declining steadily. At age nine months 86 per cent of children were with both natural parents. This dropped to 77 per cent at age 5 and to 69 per cent at age 7.

The findings appear in a report published today by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies: Millennium Cohort Study, Fourth Survey: A User’s Guide to Initial Findings. Copies of the report can be downloaded from (from 10am on Friday, October 15).

Further information from:

David Budge

(off) 020 7911 5349

(mob) 07811 415362

Notes for editors:

  1. The Millennium Cohort Study has been tracking the Millennium children through their early childhood and plans to follow them into adulthood. It covers such diverse topics as parenting; childcare; school choice; child behaviour and cognitive development; child and parental health; parents’ employment and education; income; housing; and neighbourhood. It is the first of the nationwide cohort studies to over-sample areas with high densities of ethnic minorities and large numbers of disadvantaged families. Previous surveys of the cohort were carried out when the children were aged nine months, three years and five years. The study is housed at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education. It was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, whose funding has been supplemented by a consortium of government departments.
  2. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has pledged to review the marriage penalty in the tax credit system as one of a battery of measures to promote “strong and stable families of all kinds”. It believes such families are “the bedrock of a strong and stable society”.
  3. Data from the fieldwork for the fourth survey of the Millennium cohort are now available from the UK Data Archive
  4. The contract for data collection in MCS is awarded under competitive tender to specialist agencies. For three of the four surveys undertaken to date the data collection was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, who in turn sub-contracted the interviewing in Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The agency responsible for the second round of data collection was Gfk-NOP, who sub-contracted in Northern Ireland to Millward Brown.
  5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  6. The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the publications that the IOE submitted were judged to be internationally significant and over a third were judged to be “world leading”. The Institute was recognised by Ofsted in 2010 for its “high quality” initial teacher training programmes that inspire its students “to want to be outstanding teachers”. The IOE is a member of the 1994 group, which brings together 19 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities.

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