Search Results

Title: Does Marriage Matter for Kids? The Impact of Legal Marriage on Child Outcomes
Resulting in 1 citation.
1. Bjorklund, Anders
Ginther, Donna K.
Sundstrom, Marianne
Does Marriage Matter for Kids? The Impact of Legal Marriage on Child Outcomes
Presented: Bergen, Norway, XVIII Annual Conference of the European Society for Population Economics, June 2004.
Cohort(s): Children of the NLSY79, NLSY79
Publisher: European Society for Population Economics (ESPE)
Keyword(s): Behavior Problems Index (BPI); Children, Academic Development; Children, Behavioral Development; Children, Well-Being; Cohabitation; Family Structure; Marriage; Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT- Math); Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT- Reading); Sweden, Swedish

Permission to reprint the abstract has not been received from the publisher.

The association between marriage and positive outcomes for children has been documented in numerous studies. For example, McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) show that educational, fertility, and inactivity outcomes for children who grow up with a single-parent or stepparent are far worse than for those children who grow up in an intact family with both (married) biological parents. However, the causal effect of marriage on child outcomes is difficult to identify because marriage is not randomly assigned. Most previous studies of the impact of marriage are plagued by this selection problem. Despite the positive associations between marriage and outcomes, cohabitation is increasing in the U.S. and is ubiquitous in Sweden. In 2000 3.7 percent of household were cohabiting unions in the U.S. Cohabitation in Sweden is more common than anywhere else in the industrialized world, and, although it is more similar to legal marriage than is the case in the U.S., it does not have the same legal implications, e.g. in case of separation or death. Examining the effects of marriage and cohabitation in the U.S: and Sweden allow us to determine whether legal marriage confers benefits to children beyond the similar but less formal ties of cohabitation. This topic is very timely given the Bush Administration's investment of $1.5 billion to promote healthy marriage in the U. S. We address the following research questions: Does legal status of the union matter for children's outcomes? Is it the biological relationship, the quality, or the legal status of their union that confers advantages on children in Sweden and the U.S.? How do children's educational outcomes compare for those residing with cohabiting parents (both biologically related to the children) and those residing with married biological parents and single-parent families in the U.S. and Sweden? How do the results from Sweden inform United States policies that seek to promote healthy marriage?

We use two data sets for the U.S. The first sample is taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) and the second is the 2000 wave of the NLSY-Child which contains information from 3,425 women with 8,323 children. Combining information from the NLSY79 marital/cohabitating history of their mothers and questions about family structure in the NLSY-Child we create a family structure history. This allow us to distinguish between children living with married biological parents, cohabiting parents, single mothers, mothers married to stepfathers, and mothers cohabiting with unrelated males. We use a number of educational outcomes. For children from ages 5 to 15 we have assessment instruments including three Peabody Individual Achievement Tests (PIAT) for reading and math and the Behavior Problems index which measures a child's anti-social behavior. For children over the ages of 15 we observe school enrollment status and highest grade completed. Explanatory variables include demographic characteristics, parental education, number of siblings, and family income.

For Sweden we use a random sample of children born 1974-84 drawn from the population registers. The data sample roughly 20 percent of Swedish children born each year from 1974-84 and their siblings. The total sample size is over 300,000 child observations. This data is combined with family and individual information from the censuses from 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1990. Our outcome variables are grade point average at age 16, high school graduation at age 19, and years of schooling and earnings for older children in the sample. We create marital history--length of cohabitation and length of marriage-- for the parents using information from the bidecennial censuses from 1990 and before and tax records after 1990. Our explanatory variables include the sibling composition of the household (his children, her children, and their joint biological children), the educational attainment and earnings of the adults in the household, and whether the family lives in an urban area.

Identifying the causal effect of marriage on outcomes is complicated by the selection problem. We use IV-methods as well as fixed-effect models to deal with this problem.

Bibliography Citation
Bjorklund, Anders, Donna K. Ginther and Marianne Sundstrom. "Does Marriage Matter for Kids? The Impact of Legal Marriage on Child Outcomes." Presented: Bergen, Norway, XVIII Annual Conference of the European Society for Population Economics, June 2004.