Inequality and the Route to Parenthood in the UK

Susan Harkness, ISER, Essex University

Growing family diversity, and its increasing polarization along class lines, is a subject of increasingly scholarly concern. Numerous studies have linked the growth in lone parenthood to increasing levels of poverty and inequality (e.g. Thomas & Sawhill, 2002) while a growing number have suggested that inequality and poverty are associated with the rise in lone parenthood (e.g. Blau et. al. 2010). This study looks at how inequality influences one particular route to lone parenthood, the birth of a first child without a partner. In 2000 in the UK more than 10 percent of children were born to a lone mother, and they accounted for more than 40 percent of those experiencing lone motherhood by age of 11 (Harkness & Salgado, 2017).

Data comes from two British birth cohort studies; the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) and the 1970 Birth Cohort Study (BCS). Children born in 1958 and 1970 entered adulthood under very different social and economic circumstances; in particular, there was a sharp rise in inequality and rapidly changing social norms over this period. Using competing duration models, we investigate changes in the timing and circumstances of the transition of parenthood. We look at four possible outcomes, and their timing, up the age of 42: that a first birth occurs outside a cohabiting union; within a cohabiting union; within a marital union; or that no birth occurs. We look at how socio-economic circumstances influence the timing and family circumstances of women at the birth of a first child. We link these outcomes to background characteristics observed during childhood (including family background, parental socio-economic status and the socio-economic characteristics of neighbourhoods), and to male and female employment and earnings opportunities assessed at different points of the earnings distribution.

Presented in Session 61: Transition to Parenthood