The importance of family economics (e.g. incomes) is well known and well represented in research and government policy on education. What is frequently overlooked in both research and policy discussions is the importance of marriage and family relationships
Using new GCSE data from the Millennium Cohort Study, we analysed the probability that 17-year-old children did not achieve Maths and English GCSE to nationally accepted pass levels.
In our sample of 6,346 children born between 2000 and 2002, we found that 30% of boys and 24% of girls did not achieve that level in both Maths and English GCSEs.
Among the 5,145 children born to couples, the probability of passing both Maths and English GCSE at grade C/4 or above was influenced uniquely for boys by his mother’s education level and his closeness to his mother at age 14; and for girls by whether her mother was married when she was born, her mother’s housing tenure soon after she was born, and whether her parents were still together when she was aged 17.
In summary, family economics has a unique influence on exam results for both boys and girls. For boys only, family relationships also matter. For girls only, family structure What had no effect were factors related to family ‘culture’ (ethnicity, religion, grandparent status), mother’s relationship choices (ante-natal classes, planned pregnancy, other partners), and parent relationship timing (age, time co-resident, birth order).
In a separate analysis that included children born to single mothers, we found their weaker results were related to family economics and not to being a single mother per se.
This robust analysis shows the importance of both family economics and family relationships on subsequent GCSE results. In particular, these findings emphasise the central role of marriage on educational outcomes for girls.