The Racial Marriage Gap and Student Achievement: A New Look at an Old Conundrum

Is the assumption behind pro-marriage policies—that marriage improves academic outcomes among Black youth—empirically supported?

A longstanding assumption in federal policy, programs, and tax codes is that marriage leads to improved child outcomes and should therefore be incentivized and rewarded. Further, some policymakers argue that the growing Black–White gap in marriage rates may increase inequality in children’s academic achievement. For this study, the research team will investigate whether marriage indeed leads to improved child outcomes. The research team will investigate this question by identifying quasi-experimental variation in whether Black parents who conceive non-maritally then marry mid-pregnancy as a function of whether bad economic news arrives during the pregnancy or after the birth. Prior research supports the suggestion that Black marriage behavior is more susceptible to economic shocks than marriage for other groups, and this is further confirmed by the instrument the team has piloted tested. The researchers will use data from four administrative data sources in North Carolina, covering the years 1990 to 2012 to identify within each county the month job losses occurred, the month a birth was conceived, and the month a marriage took place.

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