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Does Marriage Matter for Children? Assessing the Causal Impact of Legal Marriage

  • Björklund, Anders

    ()

    (SOFI, Stockholm University)

  • Ginther, Donna K.

    ()

    (University of Kansas)

  • Sundström, Marianne

    ()

    (SOFI, 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. 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 policy relevant question 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 confirm the expected pattern that children with married parents do better than children with cohabiting parents. However, once we control for observable family background, or use instrumental-variables estimation to compare the outcomes for those children whose parents married due to the reform with those children whose parents remained unmarried, the differences disappeared. A supplementary sibling difference analysis also supports the conclusion that the differentials among children of married and cohabiting parents reflect selection rather than causation.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3189.

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Length: 37 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3189
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  1. Joshua D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens, 1995. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," NBER Technical Working Papers 0118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. James J. Heckman & Sergio Urzua & Edward J. Vytlacil, 2006. "Understanding Instrumental Variables in Models with Essential Heterogeneity," NBER Working Papers 12574, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Joshua D. Angrist, 2003. "Treatment Effect Heterogeneity in Theory and Practice," NBER Working Papers 9708, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Gunnar Andersson, 2003. "Demographic trends in Sweden: an update of childbearing and nuptiality through 2002," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2003-034, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
  5. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 2003. "Child gender and the transition to marriage," Demography, Springer, vol. 40(2), pages 333-349, May.
  6. Henz, Ursula & Sundström, Marianne, 2001. "Partner Choice and Women's Paid Work in Sweden - The Role of Earnings," Working Paper Series 1/2000, Swedish Institute for Social Research.
  7. Bjorklund, Anders & Moffitt, Robert, 1987. "The Estimation of Wage Gains and Welfare Gains in Self-selection," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(1), pages 42-49, February.
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