WHEN it comes to raising stable children, a parent's education and economic circumstances are 'more important' than whether they are married.
A new study claims children from one-parent or cohabiting families fare similarly to the children of married parents when facing difficult conditions growing up.
The stark findings also reveal the majority of mothers who give birth outside marriage come from impoverished backgrounds.
And rates of chronic illness prior to childbirth, along with smoking during pregnancy, are both higher amongst lone mothers.
However, while the study claimed marriage was no guarantee of child stability, it also concluded that children from never-married, one-parent families and cohabiting families were doing less well in school.
Researchers at the University of Limerick unveiled their findings shortly after a British High Court Judge made worldwide headlines for stating that a couple "should not have children" unless their relationship was stable enough for marriage.
The Limerick study, entitled 'Growing Up in a One Parent Family', used the new Government-funded Growing Up in Ireland statistics.
It is the most detailed statistical study to date of the effects of family structure on child development.
Funded by the Family Support Agency through the Irish Research Council, the study paints a detailed picture of differences in the socio-economic background of families.
Commenting on the report, lead researcher at the University of Limerick, Dr Carmel Hannan, explained the findings are significant for current policy that provides supports for parents based on their family circumstances, rather than on the factors which directly influence child wellbeing.
"Marriage is not the answer to child disadvantage. Rather, better educated and better resourced parents make for better educated, healthier and happier children," she said.
A significant finding of the study indicates that children from one-parent families and cohabiting families fare similarly in most regards to children from married families, when faced with similarly adverse conditions growing up.
It found the majority of mothers who give birth outside of marriage come from impoverished backgrounds.
More than half of all unmarried mothers (58.5 per cent) were less than 25 years when they had their child compared to only 13 per cent of married mothers.
Marriage was most common among older, better educated and more religious mothers.
Once socio-economic background differences between mothers are taken into account, the association between negative child outcomes and living in a one-parent or cohabiting family is substantially reduced.