Child Indicators Research

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 1003–1028 | Cite as

Early Life Course Family Structure and Children’s Socio-Emotional and Behavioural Functioning: A View from Australia

  • Francisco Perales
  • Martin O’Flaherty
  • Janeen Baxter


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.


Child 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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco Perales
    • 1
  • Martin O’Flaherty
    • 1
  • Janeen Baxter
    • 1
  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, Institute for Social Science ResearchThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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