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Should We Get Married? The Effect Of Parents' Marriage On Out‐Of‐Wedlock Children


Using a representative sample of children born to unwed parents drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this study investigates whether marriage after childbirth has a causal effect on early child cognitive ability, using a treatment outcome approach to account for the selection into marriage. Comparing children with similar background characteristics and parental mate-selection patterns who differ only in terms of whether their parents marry after childbirth, we find that children whose parents marry score about 4 points (1=4th of a standard deviation) higher on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at age three than children whose parents remain unmarried. Contrasting the estimates from potential-outcome and least squares models indicates that the marriage effect is greater for children whose parents transition into marriage. Further analyses show that their parents tend to be less well matched. In the absence of a legal arrangement (“marriage”), these parents may face lower incentives in allocating resources toward the child and may experience greater difficulties of coordinating and monitoring their investments. As a result, children of parents who transition into marriage could have been particularly at risk of receiving suboptimal investments had their parents remained unmarried.

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Article provided by Western Economic Association International in its journal Economic Inquiry.

Volume (Year): 50 (2012)
Issue (Month): 1 (01)
Pages: 17-38

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Handle: RePEc:bla:ecinqu:v:50:y:2012:i:1:p:17-38
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