The Kids Are All Right: Non-marital Births and Child Well-being

the Monday 15 January 2018 at l’Ined, salle Sauvy de 11h30 à 12h30

Presented by : Christina M. Gibson-Davis (Sanford School of Public Policy) ; Discussant à venir

Scholars and policy makers in both the US and the UK have long decried the rise in the share of children born out of wedlock, hypothesizing that an increased fraction of children born non-maritally portends bad outcomes for children, and by extension, society. Using six decades of US and UK data, I test this hypothesis, by looking at aggregate trends in the non-marital fertility ratio (NMFR) and child well-being. Analyzing a wide variety of academic, behavioral, and health measures, I find no evidence that an increased NMFR is correlated with increases in aggregate adverse outcomes. Instead, the majority of results suggest that as the NMFR has increased, aggregate child outcomes have improved. To understand why changes in the NMFR were not negatively correlated with aggregate child well-being, I consider four possible explanations: measurement error, policy interventions, the changing context of parental relationships, and the causal impact of the NMFR. Evidence is most consistent with the explanation that the NMFR is not causally related to child well-being.  I conclude that the attention given to the NMFR has likely been overstated, and that given scarce resources, policy makers and academics may wish to direct their attention elsewhere. 


Christina M. Gibson-Davis

Christina M. Gibson-Davis is an associate professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, with a secondary appointment in sociology. Her research interests center around social and economic differences in family formation patterns. Her current research focuses on the how divergent patterns of family formation affect economic inequality.

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