College Major, Marriage, and Children Update

In a May post I described a paper my student my student had written on how college majors predict the likelihood of being married and having children later in life.

Since then I joined the paper as a coauthor and rewrote it to send to academic journals. I’m now revising it to resubmit to a journal after referee comments. The best referee suggestion was to move our huge tables to an appendix and replace them with figures. I just figured out how to do this in Stata using coefplot, and wanted to share some of the results:

Points represent marginal effects of coefficient estimates from Logit regressions estimating the effect of college major on marriage rates relative to non-college-graduates. All regressions control for sex, race, ethnicity, age, and state of residence. MarriedControls additionally controls for personal income, family income, employment status, and number of children. Married (blue points) includes all adults, others include only 40-49 year-olds. Lines through points represent 95% confidence intervals.
Points represent coefficient estimates from Poisson regressions estimating the effect of college major on the number of children in the household relative to non-college-graduates. All regressions control for sex, race, ethnicity, age, and state of residence. ChildrenControls additionally controls for personal income, family income, employment status, and number of children. Children (blue points) includes all adults, others include only 40-49 year-olds. Lines through points represent 95% confidence intervals.

Many details have changed since Hannah’s original version, and a lot depends on the exact specification used. But 3 big points from the original paper still stand:

  1. Almost all majors are more likely to be married than non-college-graduates
  2. The association of college education with childbearing is more mixed than its almost-uniformly-positive association with marriage
  3. College education is far from uniform; differences between some majors are larger than the average difference between college graduates and non-graduates

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.