Early Life Course Family Structure and Children’s Socio-Emotional and Behavioural Functioning: A View from Australia
- 768 Downloads
Children’s early life experiences are important not only for their contemporary wellbeing, but also for their subsequent life outcomes as adolescents and adults. Research from developed countries has demonstrated that children in one-parent and reconstituted families have worse socio-emotional and behavioural functioning than children from ‘normative’ or ‘intact’ families. We use recent Australian data from a nationally representative birth cohort study to examine the associations between family structure and children’s socio-emotional and behavioural outcomes. We contribute to the literature in two ways: by testing whether previously established relationships in the US and the UK apply in Australia, and by deploying an innovative life course methodological approach that pays attention to the accumulation, patterning and timing of exposures to different family types during childhood. As in other countries, children in Australia who spend time in one-parent or reconstituted families experience more socio-emotional and behavioural problems than other children. Such differences disappear when accounting for socio-economic capital and maternal mental health. This suggests that providing additional income and mental health support to parents in vulnerable families may contribute to mitigating children’s socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties in Australia.
KeywordsChild wellbeing Socio-emotional development Family structure Poverty Life course methods Australia
This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027). This paper uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The study is conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the author and should not be attributed to the ARC, DSS, AIFS or the ABS. The authors would like to thank Laura Dunstan for research assistance and participants at the 6th workshop on the Economics of Health and Wellbeing held on Yarra Glen, Victoria (Australia) in February 2015.
- Allen, G. (2011). Early intervention: Smart investment, massive savings. The second independent report to Her Majesty’s government. London: HM Government.Google Scholar
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2013). Labour Force Australia, 2013. Catalogue number 6202.0. Available online at: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6202.0Main+Features1Dec%202013?OpenDocument (last accessed 28/05/2015).
- Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). (2013). Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Data User Guide - November 2013. Melbourne, Australia.Google Scholar
- Ben-Shlomo, Y., Mishra, G., & Kuh, D. (2014). Life course epidemiology. In Handbook of Epidemiology (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. (2013). The long reach of early childhood poverty. In Economic Stress, Human Capital, and Families in Asia. Springer: Netherlands.Google Scholar
- Duncan, G. J., Yeung, W. J., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Smith, J. R. (1998). How much does childhood poverty affect the life chances of children? American Sociological Review, 406–423.Google Scholar
- Dunn, J., Deater‐Deckard, K., Pickering, K., O’Connor, T. G., & Golding, J. (1998). Children’s adjustment and prosocial behaviour in step‐, single‐parent, and non‐stepfamily settings: Findings from a community study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39(8), 1083–1095.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Field, F. (2010). The foundation years: Preventing poor children becoming poor adults. The report of the independent review on poverty and life chances. London.Google Scholar
- Harkness, S., Gregg, P., & MacMillan, L. (2012). Poverty: The role on institutions, behaviours and culture. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation.Google Scholar
- Heckman, J. J. (2012). The case for investing in disadvantaged young children. European Expert Network on Economics of Education. Available online at: http://heckmanequation.org/content/resource/case-investing-disadvantaged-young-children (last accessed 16/04/2015).
- Heckman, J. J., & Masterov, D. V. (2007). The productivity argument for investing in young children. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 29(3), 446–493.Google Scholar
- Kalil, A., Haskins, R., & Chesters, J. (Eds.). (2012). Investing in children: work, education, and social policy in two rich countries. Washington: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
- Leigh, A. (2013). Battlers & billionaires: The story of inequality in Australia. Collingwood: Redback.Google Scholar
- Lesthaeghe, R. (1995). The second demographic transition in western countries: An interpretation. In K. O. Mason & A. M. Jensen (Eds.), Gender and family change in industrialized countries (pp. 17–62). Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
- Mather, M. (2010). U.S. children in single-mother families. Population Reference Bureau Data Brief. Available online at: http://www.prb.org/pdf10/single-motherfamilies.pdf (last accessed 16/04/2015).
- McLachlan, R., Gilfillan, G., & Gordon, J. (2013). Deep and persistent disadvantage in Australia. Canberra: Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper.Google Scholar
- McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. (1997). Growing up with a single parent what hurts, what helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Pink, B. (2013) Technical paper: Census of population and housing: Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Australian Bureau of Statistics: Cat. No. 2039.0.55.001.Google Scholar
- Weston, R., Qu, L., & Baxter, J. (2013). Australian families with children and adolescents (Australian Family Trends No.5). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.Google Scholar
- Wolfe, B., Haveman, R., Ginther, D., & An, C. B. (1996). The “window problem” in studies of children’s attainments: a methodological exploration. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 91(435), 970–982.Google Scholar
- Zubrick, S., Smith, G., Nicholson, J., Sanson, A., & Jackiewicz, T. (2008). Parenting and families in Australia. Social Policy Research Paper No. 34. Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs: Canberra.Google Scholar