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Is Marriage Always Good for Children? Evidence from Families Affected by Incarceration

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  • Keith Finlay
  • David Neumark

Abstract

One-third of children in the United States are born to unmarried parents. A substantial number of black and Hispanic children live with a never-married mother. Children of never-married mothers are more likely to drop out of high school, repeat grades, and have behavioral problems than are children raised in more traditional family structures. But these relationships may be driven by other factors that affect marital status at birth, post-conception marriage decisions, and later child outcomes, rather than causal effects of family structure. Given that changes in the availability of men in the marriage market should affect marriage decisions, we use incarceration rates for men as an instrumental variable for family structure in estimating the effect of never-married motherhood on the likelihood that children drop out of high school, focusing on blacks and Hispanics. Instrumental variables estimates suggest that unobserved factors rather than a causal effect drive the negative relationship between never-married motherhood and child outcomes for blacks and Hispanics, at least for the children of women whose marriage decisions are most affected by variation in incarceration rates for men. For Hispanics, in particular, we find evidence that these children may actually be better off living with a never-married mother.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13928.

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Date of creation: Apr 2008
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Publication status: published as Keith Finlay & David Neumark, 2010. "Is Marriage Always Good for Children?: Evidence from Families Affected by Incarceration," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(4), pages 1046-1088.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13928

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Cited by:
  1. Hotz, V. Joseph & Pantano, Juan, 2013. "Strategic Parenting, Birth Order and School Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 7680, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Wolfgang Frimmel & Martin Halla & Rudolf Winter-Ebmer, 2012. "Can Pro-Marriage Policies Work? An Analysis of Marginal Marriages," NRN working papers, The Austrian Center for Labor Economics and the Analysis of the Welfare State, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria 2012-07, The Austrian Center for Labor Economics and the Analysis of the Welfare State, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.
  3. Francesconi, Marco & Jenkins, Stephen P. & Siedler, Thomas, 2005. "Childhood family structure and schooling outcomes: evidence for Germany," ISER Working Paper Series 2005-22, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
  4. Terry-Ann Craigie, 2008. "Effects of Paternal Presence and Family Stability on Child Cognitive Performance," Working Papers, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. 1015, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
  5. Kasey S. Buckles, 2012. "Selection and the Marriage Premium for Infant Health," Working Papers, University of Notre Dame, Department of Economics 003, University of Notre Dame, Department of Economics, revised Jul 2012.
  6. V. Joseph Hotz & Juan Pantano, 2013. "Strategic Parenting, Birth Order and School Performance," NBER Working Papers 19542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Jungmin Lee, 2013. "The Impact of a Mandatory Cooling-off Period on Divorce," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(1), pages 227 - 243.
  8. Huang, Chien-Chung & Postmus, Judy L. & Vikse, Juliann H. & Wang, Lih-Rong, 2013. "Economic abuse, physical violence, and union formation," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 35(5), pages 780-786.
  9. Robynn Cox & Sally Wallace, 2013. "The Impact of Incarceration on Food Insecurity among Households with Children," Working Papers, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. 1448, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..

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