College Major, Marriage, and Children

The American Community Survey began in 2000, and started asking about college majors in 2009, surveying over 3 million Americans per year. This has allowed all sorts of excellent research on how majors affect things like career prospects and income, like this chart from my PhD advisor Doug Webber:

See here for the interactive version of this image

But the ACS asks about all sorts of other outcomes, many of which have yet to be connected to college major. As far as I can tell this was true of marriage and children, though I haven’t searched exhaustively. I say “was true” because a student in my Economics Senior Capstone class at Providence College, Hannah Farrell, has now looked into it.

The overall answer is that those who finished college are much more likely to be married, and somewhat more likely to have children, than those with no college degree. But what if we regress the 39 broad major categories from the ACS (along with controls for age, sex, family income, and unemployment status) on marriage and children? Here’s what Hannah found:

Every major except “military technologies” is significantly more likely than non-college-grads to be married. The smallest effects are from pre-law, ethnic studies, and library science, which are about 7pp more likely to be married than non-grads. The largest effects are from agriculture, theology, and nuclear technology majors, each about 18pp more likely to be married.

For children the story is more mixed; library science majors have 0.18 fewer children on average than non-college-graduates, while many majors have no significant effect (communications, education, math, fine arts). Most majors have more significantly more children than non-college graduates, with the biggest effect coming from Theology and Construction (0.3 more children than non-grads).

In this categorization the ACS lumps lots of majors together, so that economics is classified as “Social Sciences”. When using the more detailed variable that separates it out, Hannah finds that economics majors are 9pp more likely than non-grads to be married, but don’t have significantly more children.

I love teaching the Capstone because I get to learn from the original empirical research the students do. In a typical class one or two students write a paper good enough that it could be published in an academic journal with a bit of polishing, and this was one of them. But its also amazing how many insights remain undiscovered even in heavily-used public datasets like the ACS. We’ve also just started to get good data on specific colleges, see this post on which schools’ graduates are the most and least likely to be married.

3 thoughts on “College Major, Marriage, and Children

  1. Gale Pooley May 12, 2022 / 3:57 pm

    Great article James.

    Do you have link to your syllabus for your Econ capstone class?

    Best,

    Gale

    Gale L. Pooley, PhD

    Associate Professor

    College of Business and Government

    Brigham Young University Hawaii

    55-220 Kulanui Street | Laie, HI. 96762-1294

    Phone: 808.675.3587

    ________________________________

    Like

    • James Bailey May 13, 2022 / 3:31 pm

      Sure, added a link at the bottom of the post

      Like

  2. StickerShockTrooper May 13, 2022 / 12:49 pm

    Obviously, from an economics standpoint, getting married is free (tax) money, but kids come with hefty fees, hidden costs, and lots of risk for uncertain returns…

    I’m guessing the major is just a proxy for variables that actually affect marriage and child rates, like socioeconomic status and political preference.

    Like

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