Does Marriage Matter for Kids? The Impact of Legal Marriage on Child Outcomes

Donna K. Ginther, University of Kansas
Anders Björklund, Swedish Institute for Social Research
Marianne Sundström, Swedish Institute for Social Research

Many studies have found a positive association between living with biological parents and child outcomes. This paper focuses on children who live with both biological parents and analyzes whether having married parents confers any educational advantages to children that cohabitation does not. Cohabitation is more common in Sweden than anywhere else in the industrialized world. Although it is more similar to legal marriage than in the U.S., it does not have the same legal implications. We use a natural experiment, namely the marriage boom in Sweden at the end of 1989, created by the change in the widow’s pension scheme in 1990, to identify the causal effect of marriage on child outcomes. We use a random sample of children born in Sweden in 1974-87. The data are combined with family and individual information from the censuses 1980, 1985 and 1990. Our outcome variable is grade point average at age 16.

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Presented in Session 16: Marriage, Cohabitation, and Children