Daughters and Divorce

Here is a really interesting piece of research published in the August edition of Demography. Amar Hamoudi and Jenna Nobles incorporate epidemiological evidence into a new hypothesis to explain why more divorces occur among families with a first-born daughter.

Abstract: Provocative studies have reported that in the United States, marriages producing firstborn daughters are more likely to divorce than those producing firstborn sons. The findings have been interpreted as contemporary evidence of fathers’ son preference. Our study explores the potential role of another set of dynamics that may drive these patterns: namely, selection into live birth. Epidemiological evidence indicates that the characteristic female survival advantage may begin before birth. If stress accompanying unstable marriages has biological effects on fecundity, a female survival advantage could generate an association between stability and the sex composition of offspring. Combining regression and simulation techniques to analyze real-world data, we ask, How much of the observed association between sex of the firstborn child and risk of divorce could plausibly be accounted for by the joint effects of female survival advantage and reduced fecundity associated with unstable marriage? Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), we find that relationship conflict predicts the sex of children born after conflict was measured; conflict also predicts subsequent divorce. Conservative specification of parameters linking pregnancy characteristics, selection into live birth, and divorce are sufficient to generate a selection-driven association between offspring sex and divorce, which is consequential in magnitude. Our findings illustrate the value of demographic accounting of processes which occur before birth—a period when many outcomes of central interest in the population sciences begin to take shape.

See “Do Daughters Really Cause Divorce? Stress, Pregnancy, and Family Composition

Do elite schools add value to admitted students?

In a new study published in the July edition of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Adrienne Lucas and Isaac Mbiti use a regression discontinuity design to investigate this question for the population of Kenyan students who graduated primary school in 2004. The researchers, exploiting Kenya’s secondary school admission rule, compare the educational outcomes of students who were barely admitted to elite schools (known as national schools) to those of students who barely missed admission. This strategy, the researchers say, allows them to attribute differences in students’ outcomes to the quality of their secondary schools.

Their analysis yields findings of 1) no association between admission to an elite school and improved progress through secondary school, and 2) little evidence of positive impacts of graduating from an elite school on secondary school test scores. One thing they do find is evidence of a robust causal association between graduating from an elite school and higher test scores on the Swahili subject test. This finding, the researchers explain, may be due to the diversity of the student population at the national schools and perhaps the special emphasis on Swahili for the sake of communication or as a national language. Taken together, the researchers interpret their findings as suggestive that the “quality” of Kenyan elite schools is attributable to the selection of students.

See “Effects of School Quality on Student Achievement: Discontinuity Evidence from Kenya”

What explains the racial gap in college completion?

In its most recent edition, the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics published a paper in which Peter Arcidiacono and Cory Koedel investigate the racial gap in college completion using data on students in the Missouri university system. Conditional on four-year college enrollment, African Americans fall behind Whites in their rates of college completion by 15 and 18 percentage points for women and men, respectively. The authors investigate what might explain this gap by creating and testing a model that decomposes the gap into four factors. They find that, for women and men respectively, differences in pre-entry skills explain 65.3 and 85.7 percent of the gap; differences in high school quality explain 18.5 and 8.4 percent; college sorting explains 14.7 and 5.6 percent; and college major sorting explains 1.5 and 0.3 percent of the gap.

See: “Race and College Success: Evidence From Missouri

Expected Happiness from Childbearing

At the Population Association of America’s meetings this May, Arnstein Aassve and colleagues presented a paper on the relationship between childbearing and happiness using Generations and Gender Survey data from Italy, France, and Bulgaria. Prior literature on the subject has been limited to investigating the link using general measures of happiness.  But the GGS data allows for more direct analyses, since the survey specifically asks respondents to report their expected levels of happiness from having a(nother) child.

The researchers find that, on average, Italians appear to have the highest happiness expectations from childbearing, followed by the French, who also have positive expectations. The Bulgarians differ from these two groups in that their happiness expectations appear to be closer to neutral. Interestingly, the researchers find that, on average, men report a higher level of expected happiness from having a child than women, in each country. They also find that as the number of children already present rises, the level of expected happiness from having another child decreases.

In their regression analyses, the researchers find suggestive evidence that expectations of happiness increases are predictive of having a(nother) child within the next three years for the French and Italians. For the Bulgarians, happiness expectations appear not to impact short-term fertility behavior.

See “Expected happiness from childbearing and its realization

What is it about fathers that matters for young people’s behavioral outcomes?

In a new paper published in the June edition of the Review of Economics of the Household, Deborah Cobb-Clark and Erdal Tekin investigate the mechanisms through which fathers affect the likelihood that young people will engage in delinquent behavior in adolescence and young adulthood. The authors focus their analysis on distinguishing any effect of paternal presence from any effects of paternal involvement or financial contribution. They also expand their family structure categorizations to account for the residential status of the biological father, whether there is a residential step-father, and whether the young person has a father figure of both types.

The authors report their key findings as follows:

“We find that while adolescent girls’ behavior is largely independent of the presence (or absence) of their fathers, adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives. This latter effect cannot be explained by the lack of fathers’ active involvement in their sons’ lives per se, however, despite the fact that the time boys spend doing things with their fathers often does have beneficial effects. We also find a link between adult delinquent behavior and adolescent family structure that cannot be explained by fathers’ involvement in doing things with their adolescent sons and is only partially explained by fathers’ involvement with their adolescent daughters. Finally, the strong link between adolescent family structure and delinquent behavior is not accounted for by the income disparities associated with fathers’ absence.”

See Fathers and youths’ delinquent behavior

White-Hispanic Fertility Gap: The Role of Fertility Intentions

The United States population has kept up with replacement-level fertility rates in recent years. But this is largely due to the relatively high fertility of certain immigrant groups, such as Hispanics, compared to non-Hispanic Whites. In a paper published in the April edition of Demographic Research, Caroline Hartnett investigates whether the fertility levels of Hispanics and Whites in the US reflect fertility intentions.

Analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), she finds that, in the aggregate, both Hispanics and Whites fall short of achieving their intended fertility, though Hispanics come closer to meeting their intentions. But at the individual level, this is not so. Hartnett finds that 33% of Hispanic women, compared to 38% of Whites, achieve their intended fertility. Further analyses indicate that Hispanics’ higher fertility levels are due to both higher intended fertility and greater likelihood to overshoot fertility intentions.

See “White-Hispanic differences in meeting lifetime fertility intentions in the U.S.”

Changes in Child Custody Decisions After Divorce

The June edition of Demography published Maria Cancian, Daniel Meyer, and colleagues’ follow-up to Cancian & Meyer’s (1998) study on trends in child custody decisions after parental divorce. Analyzing recent data from Wisconsin court records, the researchers document an acceleration of previously documented trends away from sole custody by the mother and toward shared custody. They report:

“Cancian and Meyer (1998) documented that between 1986 and 1993/1994, the share of cases awarded mother–sole custody fell from 80% to 74%. Here we show that by 2008, mother–sole custody declined further to 42%. This decline is largely mirrored by a dramatic increase in shared custody: equal shared custody increased from 5% to 27% of all cases, and unequal shared custody increased from 3% to 18% of all cases. Most of the unequal shared custody cases—more than 80%—have children staying with mothers the majority of the time (mother–primary shared custody). There is little change in the share of cases that are awarded father–sole custody: 11% in 1988 and 9% in 2008.”

The authors underscore the significance of their findings, stating, “in the last decade, we reached a significant milestone: there are more divorce judgments without mother–sole custody than with it.” The authors also conducted two counterfactual simulations from which they which found suggestive evidence that the documented trends are more attributable to “a change in norms and the custody determination process” rather than to changes in the characteristics of the cases that are brought to court.

See “Who Gets Custody Now? Dramatic Changes in Children’s Living Arrangements After Divorce