Can We Promote Child Well-Being by Promoting Marriage?

Gregory Acs, Urban Institute

Advocates for marriage promotion policies argue that child well-being could be improved by increasing marriage rates. Although children tend to fare better in married parent families, it may be unreasonable to expect that children in “marriage promoted” families will fare as well as their counterparts already living with married parents (even holding parental characteristics constant) because these “promoted” marriages may be of lower quality. Using data from the NLSY79’s Mother-Child files, this paper measures the quality of parental relationships by examining the future status of parental unions. It distinguishes between children living with parents who will remain married (good marriage) from those living with parents who will divorce in the future (bad marriage). I find that children living in bad marriage families fare worse across a host of indicators (test scores, BPI) than children living in good marriage families, but they still fare better than those living with single mothers.

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Presented in Session 136: Should Public Policy Promote Marriage? How Can It?