Should We Get Married? Effect of Parents' Marriage on Children Born to Cohabiting and Visiting Parents

Shirley H. Liu, University of Miami
Frank Heiland, Florida State University

Using a representative sample of children born out of wedlock drawn from the FFCWS, we investigate whether marriage after childbirth has a causal effect on early child cognitive ability, using a treatment outcome approach to account for the selection into marriage. Comparing children with similar backgrounds and parental mate-selection patterns who differ only by whether their parents marry, children whose parents marry score significantly higher on the PPVT at age three than children whose parents remain unmarried. Contrasting the estimates from potential-outcome and OLS models indicates that the marriage effect is greater for children whose parents transition into marriage. Those parents are found to be less well-matched. Without a legal arrangement, they may face lower incentives in allocating resources toward the child and experience greater difficulties in coordinating and monitoring their investments. As a result, children of parents who transition into marriage could have faced higher risks of receiving suboptimal investments had their parents remained unmarried.

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Presented in Session 41: Family Transition and Child Wellbeing