Cohabitation, marriage and child outcomes study uses MCS data

23 April 2010

A new study, published this week by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, concludes that young children’s cognitive or social and emotional development does not appear to be significantly affected by the formal marital status of their parents.

The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, examined a nationally representative sample of around 10,000 children from the Millennium Cohort Study, whose biological parents were married or cohabiting at the time of their birth, and for whom developmental measures have been recorded at ages 3 and 5.

It found that there are differences in development between children born to married and cohabiting couples, but this reflects differences in the sort of parents who decide to get married rather than to cohabit. For example, compared to parents who are cohabiting when their child is born, married parents are on average more educated, have a higher household income, and a higher occupational status, and experience a higher relationship quality early in the child’s life. It is these and other similar factors that seem to lead to better outcomes for their children. Having taken account of these (largely pre-existing) characteristics, the parents’ marital status appears to have little or no additional impact on the child’s development.

Cohabitation, marriage and child outcomes, by Alissa Goodman and Ellen Greaves, is available at:

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