Family Size and Educational Attainment: Cousins, Contexts, and Compensation

  • Ea Hoppe Blaabæk
  • Mads Meier JægerEmail author
  • Joseph Molitoris


This paper analyses the effect of family size on children’s educational attainment using a new research design that combines fixed effects and instrumental variable (IV) approaches. We use (a) data on first cousins who belong to the same extended family but to different nuclear families to control for extended family fixed effects and (b) variation in in-married spouses’ number of siblings (a proxy for their fecundity and preferences) as an IV for variation in family size within extended families. We find that family size has a negative causal effect on educational attainment and, moreover, that the negative effect is smaller in families with stronger social ties. Our results suggest that contextual characteristics outside the nuclear family moderate the negative effect of family size on children’s educational attainment.


Family size Resource dilution Educational attainment Fixed effects Instrumental variables Contexts 



This paper has been presented at the 2016 RC28 Spring Meeting at the University of Bern, the 2016 Nordic Sociological Association Conference at the University of Helsinki, at the 2017 Population Association of America Conference in Chicago, and at a research seminar at Lund University. The research leading to the results presented in this paper has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007e2013)/ERC Grant No. 312906.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Centre for Economic DemographyLund UniversityLundSweden

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