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

Policymakers fear that the gap in marriage between low- and high-income parents may exacerbate inequality by increasing disparities in children’s academic achievement. Whether it does, however, depends on whether marriage causes improved child outcomes or merely reflects other advantages. We revisit this question by identifying quasi-experimental variation in whether parents who conceive non-maritally subsequently marry, depending on whether bad economic news arrives during pregnancy. We use unique matched North Carolina marriage and birth records, matching these to children’s school records to identify effects of parental marriage on student achievement. Results will inform policy debates about the value of incentivizing marriage.