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Does Marriage Really Mattter? Investments in Prenatal Care and Birth Outcomes

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Nonmarital childbearing has increased dramatically in the United States in recent decades. A great deal of attention has been paid by both academics and policy makers to this increase, in part because of concerns that having a single mother negatively affects child outcomes. We use the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) to investigate whether marriage is associated with greater investments in prenatal care and better birth outcomes, and the extent to which this "marriage effect" is heterogeneous. Our results suggest that marriage is significantly and positively correlated with investments in prenatal care and birth outcomes. However, we find a great deal of heterogeneity in these relationships. Unmarried motherhood among educated mothers (those with a college degree or higher) is not associated with lower levels of investment in prenatal care nor with negative birth outcomes. There is also heterogeneity across racial and ethnic groups in the marital status effect that differs by which outcome is being examined. We also find that including observable characteristics and addressing unobserved characteristics reduces but does not eliminate the positive correlation between marital status and prenatal care investments, but that these remaining differentials in investments do not appear to translate into significant differences in infant health outcomes. This variation in marital status effects suggests that the benefits of marriage may be overstated, and that policy efforts to improve children's well-being through promoting marriage might be reexamined to take this into account.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Williams College in its series Department of Economics Working Papers with number 2008-06.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Handle: RePEc:wil:wileco:2008-06
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