Tory marriage tax breaks unlikely to lead to children’s welfare says IFS

By staff writers
April 19, 2010

Young children’s cognitive or social and emotional development does not appear to be significantly affected by the formal marital status of their parents, according to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

The study “Cohabitation, marriage and child outcomes” funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published today (19 April) examined nationally representative data on around 10,000 children.

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.

Compared to parents who are cohabiting when their child is born, married parents are 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, the IFS says.

The Conservative Party has announced its decision to “recognise marriage” in the tax system through a partially transferable personal allowance, which will benefit married couples where one pays tax at the basic-rate, and the other is not a tax-payer.

The IFS says its work shows that, even if more couples did decide to get married in response to the small monetary incentive, such a policy would have a limited effect on young children’s development.

Three in 10 of all births in England and Wales in 2008 were to unmarried parents living at the same address.

The report “Cohabitation, marriage and child outcomes” can be found at:


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