Can We Promote Child Well-Being by Promoting Marriage?


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This article uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Cohort Mother-Child files to explore the idea that child well-being can be improved by encouraging and enhancing parental marriage. I consider how children’s living arrangements, the stability of parental marriages, and changes in living arrangements are related to children’s behavior and cognitive test scores. Although there is some evidence that children living with their married parents, even parents in unstable marriages, have better outcomes than children living in certain nonmarital arrangements, the findings vary across domains and specifications, and the effect sizes are generally small. Thus, any benefits of policies aimed improving child well-being by encouraging and enhancing parental marriage are likely to be modest at best.