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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Both early teen marriage and dropping out of high school have historically been associated with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher poverty rates throughout life. Are these negative outcomes due to preexisting differences, or do they represent the causal effect of marriage and schooling choices? To better understand the true personal How old to get engaged societal consequences, in this article, I use an instrumental variables IV approach that takes advantage of variation in state laws regulating the age at which individuals are allowed to marry, drop out of school, and begin work.
The baseline IV estimate indicates that a woman who marries young is 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty when she is older. Similarly, a woman who drops out of school is 11 percentage points more likely to be poor.
The are robust to a variety of alternative specifications and estimation methods, including limited information maximum likelihood LIML estimation and a control function approach. While grouped ordinary least squares OLS estimates for the early teen marriage variable are also large, OLS estimates based on individual-level data are small, consistent with a large amount of measurement error.
Historically, individuals were allowed to enter into a marriage contract at a very young age. In Ancient Rome, the appropriate minimum age was regarded as 14 for males and 12 for females. When Rome became Christianized, these age minimums were adopted into the ecclesiastical law of the Catholic Church.
This canon law governed most marriages in Western Europe until the Reformation. When England broke away from the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church carried with it the same minimum age requirements for the prospective bride and groom. The minimum age requirements of 12 and 14 were eventually written into English civil law.
By default, these provisions became the minimum marriage ages in colonial America.
While Roman, Catholic, English, and early American law may have allowed marriage at 12 for girls and 14 for boys, many questioned the advisability of such early unions. Researchers and policymakers around the turn of the twentieth century recognized that teens may be especially ill-prepared to assume the familial responsibilities and financial pressures associated with marriage.
In the United States, as in most developed countries, age restrictions have been revised upward so that they are now between 15 and 21 years of age. During this same time period, dramatic changes were also occurring in the educational system of the United States see Goldin; Goldin and Katz; Lleras-Muney Free public schooling at the elementary level spread across the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century, and free secondary schooling proliferated in the early part of the twentieth century.
As secondary schooling became more commonplace, states began to pass compulsory schooling laws. States often also passed child labor laws that stipulated minimum age or schooling requirements before a work permit would be granted. These state-specific compulsory schooling and child labor laws are correlated with the legal restrictions on marriage age, indicating that it might be important to consider the impact of all the laws simultaneously.
The first argument is that teens do not accurately compare short-run benefits versus long-run costs. If teens are making myopic decisions, restrictive state laws could prevent decisions they will later regret. If these effects can be prevented, external costs such as higher welfare expenditures would also argue for restrictive state laws. Both teenage marriage and dropping out of high school are closely associated with a variety of negative outcomes, including poverty later in life.
To assess the relevance of either argument, however, it is important to know whether the observed effects are causal. Any observed negative effects may be due to preexisting differences rather than a causal relationship between teen marriage or schooling choices and adverse adult outcomes. Women who marry as teens or drop out of school may come from more disadvantaged backgrounds or possess other unobserved characteristics that would naturally lead to worse outcomes.
For example, teens choosing to marry young might have lower unobserved earnings ability, making it hard to draw conclusions about the causal relationship between teenage marriage and poverty. Variation in these laws across states and over time can be used to identify the causal impact that teen marriage and high school completion have on future economic well-being. Although compulsory schooling laws have been used as instruments in a variety of settings, this appears to be the first time marriage laws have been used as instruments.
The idea of the marriage law instrument is that states with restrictive marriage laws will prevent some teenagers from marrying who would have married young had they lived in a state with more permissive laws. Using the marriage, schooling, and labor laws affecting teens as instruments for early marriage and high school completion, I find strong negative effects for both variables on future poverty status.
The baseline instrumental variables IV estimates imply that a woman who marries young is 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty when she is older. Similarly, a woman who drops out of school is 11 percentage points more likely to be living in a family whose income is below the poverty line. The IV are robust to a variety of alternative specifications and How old to get engaged methods, including limited information maximum likelihood LIML estimation and a control function How old to get engaged.
In comparison, the ordinary least squares OLS estimates are very sensitive to how the data is aggregated, particularly for the early marriage variable. OLS estimates using grouped data are also large, while OLS estimates using individual-level data indicate a small effect for early teen marriage.
Auxiliary data indicate a large amount of measurement error in the early marriage variable, suggesting the presence of attenuation bias in the individual-level OLS estimates. The remainder of the article proceeds as follows.
I first briefly review the negative outcomes associated with teenage marriage and dropping out of school and discuss alternative perspectives on why teens might make these decisions. The following section describes the data and presents OLS estimates.
The next section discusses the early marriage, compulsory schooling, and child labor laws that will be used as instruments. I then present the instrumental variable estimates and conduct several specification and robustness checks, including a discussion of measurement error issues and a reconciliation with the literature on teenage childbearing.
research points to a variety of social, family, health, and financial outcomes that are strongly correlated with early teen marriage and low education. Women who marry while in their teens are two-thirds more likely to divorce within 15 years of their wedding compared with women who postpone marriage. In addition, women who marry in their teens tend to have more children and to have those children earlier.
There is an even larger literature documenting the negative outcomes associated with low education, including lower wages and higher unemployment rates Katz and Autorworse health Berger and Leigh ; Lleras-Muneyand higher crime rates Lochner and Moretti The negative outcomes associated with early marriage and dropping out of high school have the potential to affect not only the individual making the decision but also her children and the rest of society.
For example, a high divorce rate combined with low wages and a larger family size increases the of children living in poverty and receiving state assistance Bane ; Moffit Children of teenage mothers also have lower birth weights, have a higher rate of infant homicide, are often the victims of child abuse and neglect, have academic and behavioral problems in school, and are more likely to engage in crime Goerge and Lee ; Overpeck et al. Given these negative outcomes, why would an individual choose to marry young or drop out of high school?
Traditional economic analysis focuses on rational and forward-looking individuals Becker ; Becker, Landes, and Michael A woman chooses whether to accept a teen marriage offer or drop out of school based on the relative attractiveness of her alternatives. In this paradigm, a young woman fully anticipates the future consequences of her decisions, subject to some uncertainty about how things will actually turn out.
Women who marry early can have a high likelihood of ending up poor later in life, yet can still be optimizing. However, even if the individual is optimizing, society might still be concerned about the effects of poverty on her children and the costs associated with transfer programs. An alternative perspective for why teens marry young is based on psychological and behavioral economic models. They argued that teens may not accurately compare short-run benefits versus long-run costs because teens discount the future too heavily.
Two closely related explanations are that teens have time-inconsistent preferences or projection bias. These models How old to get engaged an explanation for why teenagers engage in risky behavior, such as drinking, smoking, drug use, unprotected sex, and criminal activity, even though these behaviors can have substantial negative consequences in the long run Gruber Looking at schooling decisions, Oreopoulos argued that myopia helps explain why some teens drop out of school early.
The various psychological explanations for poor decision-making by youth generally share the feature that teens make choices they will later regret.
Although teen marriage and low education are associated with a variety of below-average outcomes, it is not necessarily true that these choices caused the bad outcomes. For example, differences may be due to preexisting characteristics of women who marry young versus later, rather than any causal relationship between teen marriage and negative adult outcomes. To my knowledge, no research has studied the causal effect of early marriage. If teenage marriage and dropping out of high school are largely driven by unobserved personal characteristics that are the primary cause of negative outcomes, legal interventions to prevent these choices may make little difference.
While issues of causality have received little attention in the context of teenage marriage, a related line of research has attempted to disentangle the effects of teenage child-bearing on education and wages from preexisting differences between those who parent early and those who delay childbearing. Early research using OLS revealed large and ificant consequences associated with teenage childbearing Moore and Waite Subsequent approaches attempting to deal with selection bias have reached disparate conclusions.
For example, studies by Angrist and EvansGrogger and Bronarsand Klepinger, Lundberg, and Plotnick that used a variety of instrumental variables concluded that teenage childbearing has negative consequences. However, Geronimus and Korenmanusing sister fixed effects, and Hotz, McElroy, and Sanders and Hotz, McElroy, and Sanders and Hotz, Mullin, and Sandersusing random miscarriages as an instrument, found little evidence of a negative effect. The debate is ongoing, with recent work by Ashcraft and Lang and Fletcher and Wolfe using variations on the miscarriage instrument and finding negative effects.
The data for this article combine information on state-specific marriage, schooling, and labor laws with data from the, and decennial censuses Ruggles et al. Supplementary data is obtained from Vital Statistics marriage certificate data and the National Fertility Surveys. The U. Even though the census data sets are cross-sectional surveys conducted every 10 years, they contain information about women from a variety of cohorts. Because the surveys ask retrospective questions about age at first marriage and women are different ages when the survey is administered, a large data set with time-varying information can be created from the cross sections.
All three census years are combined to create a data set for women born between and These women were age 15 during the period towhich corresponds to the approximate age they were at risk for becoming early teen brides. The sample is further restricted to U. Data are also restricted to the 41 states with available data on marriage laws, compulsory schooling laws, and child labor laws.
The census data reveal that early teen marriage, which I define as How old to get engaged before the age of 16, has historically ed for a nontrivial fraction of all marriages in the United States. In the sample used in this article, 3. The top two series in Figure 1 graph the fraction of women marrying at these ages over time. The percentage of early teen marriages starts out at 3.How old to get engaged
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Right Age to Get Engaged