A longitudinal analysis of family forms, ethnicity and life chances

Publication type

Conference Paper


Polly Mckinlay

Publication date


The partnership context of childbearing impacts on the life chances of parents and children, partly through influencing the resources available for childrearing. Previous work has established that the family structures of ethnic minority groups in Britain differ from those displayed by the white population. This paper uses longitudinal data from the Millennium Cohort Study and Understanding Society to further explore how the childbearing context and subsequent family structures of different ethnic groups differ, are also influenced by other socio-economic factors and may lead to differences in life chances. We focus particularly on the African and African-Caribbean ethnic groups whose childbearing is much more likely to take place outside of marriage and partnership. By taking a longitudinal perspective, we show how family structures and the strength of parental relationships evolve over the first eleven years of a child’s life, and show signs of increasing divergence between groups. Socioeconomic factors including class, education and religion also play a role alongside ethnicity in predicting the context of childbearing and subsequent family structure, and we show how each factor has separate and in some cases interactive effects. In addition, the association between the differences observed and subsequent life chances is explored. We consider the interaction between ethnicity and childbearing context in predicting later outcomes for mothers, and show that once controlling for the impact of ethnicity, single mothers from African and African-Caribbean groups are relatively less disadvantaged than single mothers from white groups.


Child Development, Family Formation And Dissolution, Childbearing: Fertility, Ethnic Groups, Life Course Analysis, Social Stratification and Sociology Of Households