All posts, Researcher profiles, Sociology

Profile: Dr Carmel Hannan

Dr Carmel Hannan is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology. She is currently Course Director for the BA in Psychology and Sociology. View Carmel’s full profile here.

“Did you know that we, the Irish, are waiting longer and longer before we marry? In fact, the average age of Irish newlyweds has risen to its highest ever recorded level, with couples waiting until their mid-thirties before they tie the knot. What is going on?

“These are the questions that fascinate me. Why do people fall in love? Why do some people never marry? Why has Ireland one of the highest rates of lone-parenthood in Europe?

“These are very important questions as they help us understand inequality in our society. It is often assumed, for example, that marriage is good for children, good for families and good for society. Homelessness and deprivation are highest among lone mothers so it is sometimes suggested that marriage is the magic solution. My research has shown however that it is the background characteristics of the parents, particularly the mother’s education, which is so important for child and family well being. Better educated and better resourced parents make for better educated, healthier and happier children.

“These findings are based on data taken from the State-funded Growing Up In Ireland study which offers statistical insight into children’s lives over time. Such sources of data are invaluable to sociologists, like me. Yet, these data require a foundation in statistical training in which we at UL Sociology excel. Having previously worked at the Economic and Social Research Institute, in Dublin, the Institute for Social and Economic Research, at the University of Essex and in various positions in the University of Oxford, I have worked with the best in this field. Mind you, I worked on their research projects and not on my ideas. One of the privileges of receiving funding from agencies, like the Irish Research Council, is that this funding allows women like me to specialise in my field of interest. This can be hard for female academics who are much more likely to bear the brunt of heavy teaching loads and the ever-growing administration duties required by universities.

“My research area is dominated by female researchers, despite that fact that family inequality impacts upon everyone in our society, at some point in some way. One example of this is the way in which families influence child development and associated questions about the role of marriage. This led me to work with Tusla, or what was previously called the Family Support Agency (pictured below). The results from this commissioned study entitled “Growing up in a One Parent Family” reverberated around the world, appearing in the US top selling Parent’s Magazine (“A generation of Unmarried Parents” 2015) and online in Medical News Today (with 16,000,000 monthly page hits).


“What does the future hold for female researchers like me? Universities are changing rapidly but I hope to continue to pursue my passion by continuing to squeeze in research exploring changing patterns of inequality across Europe and more locally, Irish families’ access to health care. For a sociologist, providing a critical look at contemporary issues is vital. A key feature of sociological research is social impact. This means a lot of sitting on boards (like the Growing up on Ireland study), advising task forces and talking to government agencies/departments (about early childcare interventions). These duties are often hidden and not valued. Much like housework!”

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