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Partnership dissolution and formation: how do they affect income, employment and well-being?

This research project has been completed. Please contact a team member for further information.


Current government strategies focusing on both children and families have emphasised the need to prevent family breakdown, in part, to prevent rising child poverty.

In the last couple of decades, organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice have argued that marriage should be actively promoted, as it argues children brought up by parents who are married do better on a wide range of outcomes than children brought up by cohabiting couples, and lone parents.

Previous work has shown that the economic impacts of partnership breakdown are, on average, more severe for women than for men. However, a change in economic circumstances is just one of the many implications of partnership breakdown. Studies also identify associations between partnership breakdown and poorer adult mental health and well being.

This research seeks to provide up to date evidence on the impact of partnership dissolution on income and well-being in the years following the end of the partnership, and how these changes over time are linked to whether adults enter new partnerships. In addition, the research will provide an assessment of the inequality in adults’ and children’s experiences of family instability.

Project aims

The project aims to:

  1. Examine the economic impacts of partnership dissolution and formation
  2. Explore the impacts of partnership dissolution and formation on the mental health and well-being of adults and their children
  3. Provide up-to-date estimates of the proportion of adults and children that experience life in different family forms including lone parent families.

The approach will enable the processes determining economic circumstances, measures of health and wellbeing, and family circumstances to be related to each other through observable and unobservable factors. A joint model of these processes, that will reflect their simultaneous nature, will be estimated.

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and qualitative methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit

Project website

Team members

Professor Mike Brewer

Professor of Economics, Director of MiSoC - ISER - University of Essex

Mike Brewer is Director of the ESRC Centre on Micro-Social Change at ISER. His main research interests are in how welfare benefits, labour market programmes and how the tax system affects decisions made by households.

Dr Susan Harkness

Reader of Social Policy - Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy, University of Bath

Susan Harkness is a reader of Social Policy at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy based at Bath University. Her research interests include women’s employment and earnings, lone parent employment and well-being, welfare reform, the gender pay gap and child poverty.

Dr Alita Nandi

Research Fellow - ISER - University of Essex

Alita Nandi is a research fellow at ISER. Her research interests include family economics particularly partnership formation and assortative matching. She has also written extensively on issues related to race and ethnicity.

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