Home > Family wellbeing on a limited income: a study of families living at risk of poverty in Ireland.

Swords, Lorraine and Merriman, Brian and O’Donnell, Michelle (2013) Family wellbeing on a limited income: a study of families living at risk of poverty in Ireland. Dublin: Family Support Agency.

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The patterns of economic and structural change affecting family life in recent years mean that there is much to be learned about the wellbeing of families in Ireland today. To this end, Growing Up in Ireland, the National Longitudinal Study of Children, has made an important contribution to Irish and international research by providing a rich source of data relevant to the study of the wellbeing of parents, children, and the relationships they share.

The present study is concerned with quantitative data collected during the first phase of Growing Up in Ireland between September 2007 and June 2008 with 8,568 nine-year-olds and their families. The specific sample focused on in this report are families drawn from this dataset whose household income categorises them as being at risk of poverty. Households are considered to be at risk of poverty when their equivalised disposable income is below a particular threshold. In Ireland, and indeed the European Union, this threshold has been set at 60% of the median income. Evidence from the Irish and international research literature suggests that such economic hardship can cast large shadows across many aspects of family members’ lives and have a negative impact upon family wellbeing (e.g. Daly & Leonard, 2002; McKeown, Pratschke, & Haase, 2003; Sell, Zlotnik, Noonan, & Rubin, 2010).

Family wellbeing is conceptualised here as comprising the dimensions of parent wellbeing, child wellbeing and positive family relationships. The influences on the wellbeing of the individuals within the family and the relationships they share can be numerous, interrelated and reciprocal. The purpose of this report is to mine data from Growing Up in Ireland in order to describe the wellbeing of Irish families living on limited incomes and to shed light on the factors associated with the various aspects of their wellbeing. Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following two research questions:
Research Question One: How are families identified as living on very limited incomes faring in comparison with families with higher incomes across a range of indicators of family wellbeing?
Research Question Two: Among families living on limited incomes, what are the key factors associated with their wellbeing?

From an evidence base of research and insights into the factors that most contribute to the wellbeing of children, their parents, and family relationships, priorities for limited resources can be identified so that families needing assistance can most benefit from responsive policies and service provision.

Key study findings
Characteristics of Families Living at Risk of Poverty.
Examination of the characteristics of families living at risk of poverty indicated that:
• Over a third of families were headed by single-parents and the vast majority of these lone parents were mothers. Almost two thirds of families had three or more children.
• The majority of mothers and fathers had not continued education past lower secondary school level. For both parents, the odds of being at risk of poverty decreased as their level of educational attainment increased.
• The socio-economic status of one third of families could not be classified as no parent in the household had ever been in employment. For the remaining families, the majority were represented in the manual labour categories and the minority in the managerial, technical or professional categories.
• Almost forty per cent of families reported that they did not receive any Social Welfare payments in addition to Child Benefit. One third of families relied on various Social Welfare payments for all of their households’ income and, at the other end of the scale, almost one quarter received payments that amounted to less than 5% of their household’s total income.
• Over a quarter of families at risk of poverty did not have any medical card.

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