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In full: Life as a 3-year-old Growing Up In Ireland

The latest findings of the large-scale Growing Up In Ireland study are out today. As well as detailing the health and wellbeing of 11,000 Irish three-year-olds, they also show the huge effect of the recession on Irish families.

Image: 3 year old girl walks in a forest via Shutterstock

THE VAST MAJORITY are healthy; most live in warm, loving homes; many of their parents are reporting a big increase in financial pressure in the last few years.

They’re also better behaved than their counterparts in Britain…

New findings from the long-term Government study ‘Growing up in Ireland‘ have been published this morning, focusing on children’s health and wellbeing at the time of their third birthday.

The latest research relates to 11,000 children and their parents: families were first interviewed in late 2008/early 2009 when their child was nine months old. Follow-up interviews were then carried out when the child turned three.

The results throw up some interesting findings. In some areas, they show measurable gaps opening up between toddlers from poorer backgrounds and those in more well-off homes.

There are also gaps in behaviour levels and in cognitive ability between boys and girls.

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Here’s a breakdown of the main findings….

Family and home environment

  • 85 per cent of 3-year-olds were in two-parent families. Almost all were living with their biological parent or parents, in either one- or two-parent families.
  • Parenting style was measured in terms of warmth, consistency and hostility. The majority of parents were high in warmth and consistency and low in hostility. Parents who were under stress in their lives tended to be lower in warmth and consistency and higher in terms of hostility.

Child health status, physical development and growth

  • The vast majority were reported to be in good health – almost 98 per cent were described as being very healthy or healthy, with a few minor problems. Girls were rated as being in marginally better health than boys.
  • In line with international trends, there was some evidence to suggest that between birth and 3 years of age, a gap was opening up in the health of children depending on how socially advantaged/disadvantaged they were.
  • Almost 16 per cent of 3-year-olds were reported as having a long standing illness, disability or other health condition, with a higher rate for boys (18 per cent) than for girls (13 per cent). Asthma was the most commonly reported on-going illness (6 per cent).
  • On average, 3-year-olds had 2.6 consultations with their GP in the previous year. Children who were covered by a full medical card tended to have had more consultations with the GP, even when accounting for their health status.
  • The typical 3-year-old was 96.2 cms tall and weighed 15.6 kgms. On average, boys were taller and heavier than girls.
  • 76 per cent of 3-year-olds were not overweight, 19 per cent were overweight and 6 per cent were obese. There was little difference in prevalence of overweight and obesity between boys and girls but there were quite strong differences in obesity levels according to the family’s social class – from 5 per cent among children from the most socially advantaged group to 9 per cent among those who were most disadvantaged.
  • Even at 3 years of age there was already evidence of social differences in diet, with children whose mothers had lower levels of education more likely to consume energy dense foods (such as hamburgers and crisps) and less likely to have eaten fresh fruit or vegetables in the 24 hours preceding their interview.

Socio-emotional development

  • 3-year-old children in Ireland tend to display slightly lower levels of socio-emotional or behavioural difficulties than their counterparts in Britain, who participated in a study very similar to Growing Up in Ireland.
  • Boys were more likely to be in the problematic range of socio-emotional behaviour, as were children from more socially disadvantaged groups – the latter measured in terms of social class or mother’s educational attainment. According to the study’s authors, “although these class gradients are in line with international trends they are, nonetheless, a cause of concern”.
  • Children who were being brought up in families in which the parents were in some form of stress were more likely to display behavioural difficulties. The study found that behavioural difficulties displayed by children at 3 years were related to changes in the stress levels of their parents since 9 months.

Cognitive and language development

  • Girls performed measurably better on tests of cognitive ability than boys at 3 years of age. Social gradients (especially in relation to the educational attainment of the child’s mother) were clear by the time the child was 3 years old.
  • Cognitive ability was also strongly associated with activities such as frequency of reading to the child in the home.
  • The study shows that children who lagged behind developmentally in areas such as communications and problem-solving at 9 months of age continued to lag behind cognitively at 3 years.

Childcare arrangements

  • Half of 3-year-olds were in some form of non-parental childcare. Over a quarter were cared for in a crèche, Montessori, pre-school or naoinra; 11 per cent by a relative in a home-based setting (either the child’s or the relative’s) and the remaining 12 per cent in a home-based setting by a non-relative.
  • When their child was 3 years of age almost all parents planned to avail of the new free pre-school year. Only 3 per cent said they would not be availing of it.

Economic and financial circumstances

  • Just over half (54 per cent) of the mothers of 3-year-olds worked outside the home, with a further 37 per cent being engaged in home duties/looking after the family.
  • Mothers who worked outside the home did so, on average, for 30 hours per week.
  • Substantial minorities of parents who worked outside the home were experiencing work-life imbalances. Unsurprisingly, the extent of these pressures was related to the number of hours worked.
  • The percentage of families who were experiencing difficulties in making ends meet increased substantially between the interviews at 9 months and those at 3 years, reflecting the start of the recession since 2008 – 44 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.
  • Almost two-thirds of the families said that the recession had had a big effect on their lives since their interview when their child was 9 months of age. Reduction in wages and cuts in working hours and Social Welfare have had a major effect. The impact of these changes was reflected in their having to cut back on basics (mentioned by 32 per cent of families who were affected by the recession); being behind with utility bills (14 per cent) and being behind with the rent or mortgage (9 per cent).

A total of 19,500 children are taking part in the Growing up in Ireland study. The other group of children (8,500 in total) were recruited into the research at the age of nine. It’s funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and the  findings are used for policy development.

The full breakdown of the latest findings can be found at the Growing Up in Ireland website >

Also: What’s it like being a child in Ireland today?

Revealed: The life of a 13-year-old growing up in Ireland >

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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