Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy

Partnership dissolution and formation: How do they affect income employment and wellbeing?


Principal Investiagtor: Susan Harkness

Research Team: Mike Brewer (University of Essex) and Alexandra Skew (University of Essex).

Funder: Nuffield Foundation

Duration: October 2012 - November 2013


Project rationale and aims

Government strategy on children and families has emphasised the need for preventing family breakdown, in part to prevent children growing up in poverty. The economic outcomes of women, men and dependent children are affected differently by partnership dissolution, with, on average, women faring worse than men. But research has also suggested that the negative impact of partnership dissolution on lone parents’ income and wellbeing was lower in the early to mid 2000s than in the 1990s.

Using the most recent data, this project will provide a comprehensive, up-to-date and neutral assessment of the impact of partnership dissolution on the economic circumstances of the family, the labour market behaviour of adults, and the mental health and/or well-being of both adults and children. Crucially, it will examine how these outcomes change jointly, rather than investigating each outcome individually, and it will assess how these outcomes affect, and are affected by, the time to subsequent re-partnering using methods which recognise the inter-relatedness of these processes.

It will also provide up-to-date estimates of the proportion of adults and children that will experience life in different family forms, assess the inequality in adults’ and children’s experiences of instability in family forms, and document how the experience of particular family forms, or of instability generally, is correlated with key characteristics. It will analyse data in the British Household Panel Survey covering 1991-2008. We expect the results to be useful to organisations concerned with family policy and the well-being of parents and children.

The project will address four broad research questions.

  1. What are the economic impacts of partnership dissolution and formation?
  2. What are the impacts of partnership dissolution and formation on the mental health and well-being of the adults and their children?
  3. What are the determinants of time to repartnering for individuals that break up with a partner, and how does this vary with demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the individual?
  4. How unequally distributed is the experience of different family types, or of instability in family types, amongst adults and children.

Find out more about this project