Research Report from ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ Study of 11,000 Infants Highlights Social and Emotional Circumstances of Infants in Ireland Today

Posted on: 30 November 2010

A major new report from Growing Up in Ireland – the Infant Cohort, a national study tracking the lives of 11,100 nine-month-old infants and their families was launched by the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews TD on November 29th last. The research report, led by TCD and the ESRI, was launched at the study’s annual research conference and provides a unique insight into the lives of infants in Ireland, presenting in-depth findings across a range of areas including pregnancy and birth, childcare, health and development, and work-family life balance.

In general the report shows that Irish infants are doing well across a range of key areas in their lives including health, emotional and physical development.  It does, however, highlight particular concerns in relation to: (i) relatively low breastfeeding rates in Ireland (ii) patterns of smoking and drinking during pregnancy and (iii) inequalities related to socio-economic status of parents.

The findings are based on the first wave of in-depth interviews with the parents of 11,100 nine-month-old infants. These families and children are about to be revisited for a follow-up interview as the children begin turning three years of age to assess how much their lives have changed in the intervening years.

Minister Barry Andrews, Professor James Williams and Professor Sheila Greene.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 86% of nine-month-olds lived in two-parent families with 14% living in lone-parent families.
  • Traditional family types are still the norm.  Over 70% of the mothers of nine-month-olds were married and a further 15% were cohabiting with a partner.
  • 27% of mothers and 24% of fathers were not born in Ireland.
  • Nearly one in five mothers (18%) had smoked at some stage during the pregnancy and a similar proportion (20%) had drunk alcohol at some stage.  Mothers with the lower levels of education were more likely to smoke, but less likely to drink alcohol, during pregnancy than mothers with the highest education.
  • Just over half of all infants (57%) were breastfed at some point, with just over 49% being breastfed on leaving hospital.  Irish-born mothers were less likely to have breastfed (48%) than mothers born elsewhere (83%).  Rates of breastfeeding also increased in line with better education of the mother.
  • One in ten mothers had ‘no intention of ever getting pregnant’ at the time they conceived the Study Infant.
  • The vast majority of mothers reported their infant’s health to be good at birth (97%) and at nine months (99%).
  • 38% of nine-month-olds were in some form of non-parental childcare. Grandparents were the most frequent provider of childcare (12%), followed by crèche/daycare centres (11%).
  • Infants in non-parental childcare spent an average of 25 hours per week in childcare and this cost an average of €5.14 per hour. The most important consideration when choosing childcare was the quality of the care provided. However, a substantial proportion (17%) recorded that their choice had been determined by costs, either completely or to a large degree.
  • A total of 57% of mothers of infants are currently working outside the home
  • Mothers in higher income groups as well as those with higher education were more likely than others to report that they had missed out on home or family activities because of their work. In contrast mothers from the lowest income group were most likely to record having turned down work activities or opportunities because of their family life.

A full download of the report and the executive summary can be found online.

Growing Up in Ireland is a Government funded study following the progress of almost 20,000 children in total – a cohort of 11,100 nine-month-olds and a cohort of 8,500 nine-year-olds. The study is being conducted by a consortium of researchers led by Trinity College Dublin and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Speaking at today’s event, the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews TD said: “I am confident that the findings emerging from this publication will add greatly to the solid evidence base that has been established since the inception of the National Children’s Research Programme back in 2000.  It will also prove to be of enormous benefit to both policy makers and practitioners in the valuable work they undertake to improve the lives of children in Ireland.”

Also speaking today, Professor James Williams, Research Professor, ESRI and Principal Investigator and Co-Director, Growing Up in Ireland, said: “This is the first in a series of reports on the Infant Cohort from Growing Up in Ireland.  It provides a very complete overview of the situation and circumstances of infants living in Ireland today.  A large number of subsequent reports are planned.  These and the data underlying these reports will provide an evidence base for developing responsive policies and services for children and their families into the future.”

Today’s report was launched as part of Growing Up in Ireland’s Research Conference 2010, held in Dublin.  During the one-day conference researchers presented a range of papers across an array of topics on children and childhood, including health, parenting, education, childcare and time use. They were joined by Keynote Speaker Professor Ann Sanson, Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne and Network Coordinator for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).  Topics addressed at the conference included:

  • The Effect of School Social Mix on Academic Outcomes
  • The Impact of Bullying on Psychological and Educational Outcomes
  • Neighbourhood Effects on Child Outcomes
  • Nine-Year-Old Boys and Girls: On Different Paths?
  • Childcare in Early Childhood
  • Perspectives on Parental Stress – Data from the Nine-Month Qualitative Study
  • Factors Affecting Gross Motor Development in Infants
  • Infant Feeding Behaviour and Developmental Outcomes
  • Bullying and Chronic Disease
  • Impact of Childhood Chronic Illness and Emotional and Behavioural Problems on Educational Outcomes at Nine-Years
  • Impact of Parental Employment Patterns on Children’s Wellbeing
  • Time Use Among Nine-Year-Olds
  • Commonalities and differences in predictors of children’s physical, cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes: Implications for intervention

Those wishing to find out more about the study or today’s conference can visit the study’s website.