IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Björklund, Anders & Ginther, Donna K. & Sundström, Marianne, 2010. "Does Marriage Matter for Children? Assessing the Impact of Legal Marriage in Sweden," Working Paper Series 3/2010, Stockholm University, Swedish Institute for Social Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:sofiwp:2010_003

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deborah Roempke Graefe & Daniel Lichter, 1999. "Life course transitions of American children: Parental cohabitation, marriage, and single motherhood," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 36(2), pages 205-217, May.
    2. 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.
    3. James J. Heckman & Sergio Urzua & Edward Vytlacil, 2006. "Understanding Instrumental Variables in Models with Essential Heterogeneity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(3), pages 389-432, August.
    4. Sandra Hofferth, 2006. "Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 43(1), pages 53-77, February.
    5. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 2003. "Child gender and the transition to marriage," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 40(2), pages 333-349, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Cid, Alejandro, 2007. "Educational Gap and Family Structure in Uruguay," MPRA Paper 39911, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Michael Baker & Kevin Milligan, 2016. "Boy-Girl Differences in Parental Time Investments: Evidence from Three Countries," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 10(4), pages 399-441.

    More about this item


    family structure; marriage; child well-being; educational attainment;

    JEL classification:

    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hhs:sofiwp:2010_003. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Stefan Englund). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.