Marriage, cohabitation and child outcomes

Ellen Greaves, Institute for Fiscal Studies

Ellen Greaves

Co Authors
Alissa Goodman, Claire Crawford, Rob Joyce

Marriage, cohabitation, children's development

Children born to married couples have higher cognitive and social and emotional ability, on average, than children born to cohabiting couples. We investigate whether marriage, or the characteristics of couples that choose to marry, is the cause. This is an important empirical investigation in the context of a large and increasing proportion of births to cohabiting couples in the UK and US, accounting for around 30% and 40% of births in 2011 in each country respectively. We find a large degree of selection into marriage (evident through differences in exogenous characteristics of parents) which accounts for the majority of difference in outcomes between children born to married and cohabiting couples in two complementary sources of data, the Millennium Cohort Study and British Cohort Study. This suggests that policies that encourage marriage would have a small impact, if any, on children’s development.