For richer or poorer

A new blogpost on the Brookings website in the US explores why children raised by married parents typically do better in life on almost every available economic and social measure. Is it an effect of marriage itself, or is it simply because married parents have, on average, higher family incomes?

The authors argue that there is a growing marriage gap along class lines in the US, with fewer poorer couples choosing to marry while the institution flourishes among the affluent and well-educated. They also say that married parents tend to have, on average, higher family incomes anyway.

The researchers used benchmarks developed as part of the Brookings Social Genome Model to explore patterns in attainment, cognitive and non-cognitive skills, higher education, and later earnings.

Children who grow up with continuously married mothers rank on average 14 percentiles higher as adults on the income distribution than those who do not. Controlling for family income throughout childhood shrinks this gap from 14 percentiles to 9 percentiles. And accounting for other factors – parenting behaviour, maternal education, race, and maternal age – shrinks it further to around a 4.5 percentile difference.

Similarly, parenting behaviour appears to help explain the different outcomes. After controlling for parenting, the gap between children of continuously married mothers and others shrinks from 14 percentiles to 7.5 percentiles.

The analysis suggests that both the higher incomes and the more engaged parenting of married parents count for a good deal, and, if anything, parenting may matter a little more.

Source: The Marriage Effect: Money or Parenting? (2014), Brookings.