Panel: New Evidence on the Causes and Consequences of Parental Marriage
(Family and Child Policy)

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Stetson G (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University
Panel Chairs:  Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University
Discussants:  Leonard M. Lopoo, Syracuse University

Precarious Employment and Entry into Marriage and Cohabitation
Daniel Schneider1, Kristen Harknett2 and Matthew Stimpson1, (1)University of California, Berkeley, (2)University of California, San Francisco

Born without a Silver Spoon: Wealth and Unintended Childbearing
Jessica Houston Su, State University of New York at Buffalo and Fenaba Addo, University of Wisconsin - Madison

One major source of inequality between children is inequality in family status, with white children and children of college-educated parents increasingly more likely to be raised in a two biological-parent married household than other children. Because married, two-parent families are believed (although not demonstrated) to promote both economic and child well-being, the concentration of marriage among those who are already socioeconomically advantaged may exacerbate other forms of inequality and contribute to disparities in child outcomes. Specifically, children in married families may acquire more human capital than children in other family structures. If these children also come disproportionately from socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds, then they may enjoy multiple advantages over children in other households, potentially exacerbating economic disparities as they age into adulthood.

Indeed, in response to these concerns, policymakers have sought to promote marriage among low-income parents as a way to improve child well-being and reduce disparities in child outcomes.  In addition, hundreds of policies, at both the state and national level, either explicitly or implicitly incentivize marriage through the provision of tax breaks, medical benefits, and parental rights. And when other societal goals, such as redistribution, lead a policy to instead penalize rather than incentivize marriage, much attention is typically paid to minimizing that penalty.

Whether the gap in marriage between parents of different socioeconomic status exacerbates inequalities and is deserving of policy concern, however, depends on whether marriage actually causes improved child outcomes or merely reflects other advantages. The three papers in this panel will address this, and related, longstanding issue in the literature on family formation. Paper 1 will use a novel instrumental variables approach to examine the causal effect of parental marriage on children’s academic achievement. Paper 2 will investigate the relation between job quality and union formation, including marriage and cohabitation, using the NLSY-97. Finally, paper 3 will use the NLSY-79 to examine linkages between wealth and unintended pregnancies.

Together, the papers on this panel will provide new evidence about the intersection of individual and contextual economic circumstances, and the causes and consequences of marriage and family formation decisions.

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