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Does Marriage Matter for Children? Assessing the Impact of Legal Marriage in Sweden

  • Björklund, Anders

    ()

    (Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University)

  • Ginther, Donna K.

    ()

    (Dept. of Economics)

  • Sundström, Marianne

    ()

    (Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University)

This paper examines whether parental marriage confers educational advantages to children relative to cohabitation. We exploit a dramatic marriage boom in Sweden in late 1989 created by a reform of the Widow’s Pension System that raised the attractiveness of marriage compared to cohabitation to identify the effect of marriage and the effect of selection bias on marriage estimates. Sweden’s rich administrative data sources enable us to identify the children who were affected by parental marriage due to this marriage boom. Our analysis addresses the question of whether marginal marriages created by a policy initiative have an impact on children. Using grade point average at age 16 as the outcome variable, we first show the expected pattern that children with married parents do better than children with cohabiting parents. However, once we control for observable family background and compare the outcomes for children whose parents married due to the reform with those for children whose parents remained unmarried, the differences largely disappear. The results from a sibling difference analysis are consistent with the conclusion that the differentials among children of married and cohabiting parents reflect selection rather than causation.

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Paper provided by Swedish Institute for Social Research in its series Working Paper Series with number 3/2010.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: 31 Mar 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:sofiwp:2010_003
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  1. James J. Heckman & Sergio Urzua & Edward Vytlacil, 2009. "Understanding Instrumental Variables in Models with Essential Heterogeneity," Working Papers 200941, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  2. Deborah Roempke Graefe & Daniel Lichter, 1999. "Life course transitions of American children: Parental cohabitation, marriage, and single motherhood," Demography, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 205-217, May.
  3. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 2003. "Child gender and the transition to marriage," Demography, Springer, vol. 40(2), pages 333-349, May.
  4. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 27-52, Spring.
  5. Sandra Hofferth, 2006. "Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection," Demography, Springer, vol. 43(1), pages 53-77, February.
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