The "Marriage Advantage" in Infant Health Outcomes: Evidence of Selection or Risky Behavior?

Jennifer Buher Kane, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Prior research documents more beneficial infant health outcomes among married women in the U.S. compared with cohabiting or single women, but very little work has examined potential mechanisms through which this ‘marriage advantage’ operates. Using recent, population-level data (National Survey of Family Growth, 2006-8), this study examines two potential explanations: a life course or selection approach (advantages are grounded in women’s experiences in prior life stages) and a mediation approach (marriage leads to positive prenatal health characteristics which contribute to better infant health outcomes). Findings indicate that the marriage advantage is diminished but not eradicated with the inclusion of a rich set of (observed) childhood environment characteristics. Subsequent exploration using fixed-effects models demonstrates the salience of the marriage advantage only between married and single women and no difference between married and cohabiting women. The married-single disparity is partially explained by increased rates of prenatal smoking among single women.

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Presented in Session 96: Child Health