When it comes to predicting a child’s wellbeing, a new study claims that we’ve been looking in all the wrong places. Researchers from the University College Dublin say that the mother’s level of education is tied most closely to the well-being of children.
Professor Tony Fahey of UCD School of Applied Social Science, the lead author of the study, says that he was surprised to find that neither household living standards nor the marriage status of the parents were very predictive. The co-habitation status of children’s parents, including step- and one-parent families, also didn’t appear to be connected to well-being.
In the end, it was the education level of both parents, but particularly the mother, that proved to be most indicative. Fahey said that educated parents proved to be more of a factor than being from a traditional nuclear family.
For the study, the researchers measured the well-being of children in terms of cognitive development (assessed using reading and mathematics tests), social-emotional adjustment (assessed using strengths and difficulties tests), and physical health (based on mother’s reports on whether the child had a chronic illness or not).
According to the findings, 79% of nine year old children in Ireland live with both their natural parents, 17.5% live in lone parent families, and 3% live in step-families (which in nearly all cases is when the natural mother has formed a second union).
About one in five unmarried parents reside in the same household with children’s grandparents. According to the study, that living arrangement was beneficial to parents although it had no effect on the children.
The education level turned out to be so important in part because higher-educated people tend to delay childbearing until well into their 20s, frequently waiting until they are in a more solid economic position. Among the least-educated, the average child-bearing age was well south of 25.
The study finds that stable married families are more likely to have more children. Married couples were shown to have three children on average, while unmarried lone parents were shown to have 1.8 children on average. “With stability in couple relationships weakest among the least educated parents and this weakness tending to reduce family size, many families of the least educated parents are now smaller than the overall average,” adds Professor Fahey. According to Professor Fahey, this is a significant reversal on the past historical situation in Ireland.
Fahey concludes that the results clearly point to which policy steps lawmakers can take to improve the well-being of Ireland’s kids, and potentially worldwide. Mainly, Fahey thinks that they need to focus on forging a better-educated populace by offering free early childhood development options and providing financial support for low-income students pursuing higher education.