Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Parents’ Marital Quality and Children’s Transition to Adulthood


Unique longitudinal measures from Nepal allow us to link both mothers’ and fathers’ reports of their marital relationships with a subsequent long-term record of their children’s behaviors. We focus on children’s educational attainment and marriage timing because these two dimensions of the transition to adulthood have wide-ranging, long-lasting consequences. We find that children whose parents report strong marital affection and less spousal conflict attain higher levels of education and marry later than children whose parents do not. Furthermore, these findings are independent of each other and of multiple factors known to influence children’s educational attainment and marriage timing. These intriguing results support theories pointing toward the long-term intergenerational consequences of variations in multiple dimensions of parents’ marriages.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Children who died after 1996 are included in the analysis of education, although child mortality was very low during this period, making the issue trivial: 11 children died by 2008, only 1 of whom had dropped out of school before her death. The remaining 10 were censored at their death (n = 11). Divorce is extremely rare in this setting, and in 1996, no ever-married women were currently divorced from their most recent husband. Twenty-four sets of parents from the education analysis and one set of parents from the marriage analysis divorced after 1996. We exclude 4% of children from the education analysis and 14% from the marriage analysis because of missing data on at least one variable, most of which were for household structure and parental education.

  2. 2.

    Surveys were conducted in Nepalese. We provide English translations of Nepalese wording.

  3. 3.

    Although these household measures reflect processes that happened before our measures of parental marriage quality, because the processes that produce both aspects of the parental home occurred over time, we cannot be sure of the temporal order of these measures. We include them to be conservative in our approach and note that doing so does not influence the observed relationship between parental marital quality and children’s behavior.

  4. 4.

    Regarding parental experiences, we examine a measure of exposure to media: specifically, watching TV. For current community, we use geographically weighted measures of the proportion of teachers who were female and the proportion of students who were female and other dimensions of the family’s community context in 1995 (whether the family lived within a five-minute walk of a health service provider, bus stop, or market). For mother’s and father’s childhood communities, we create measures of whether each parent had a school, health service, employer, market, or bus stop within an hour’s walk at age 12.

  5. 5.

    The 2,714 children in the first analysis sample (used to study education) live with 1,168 sets of parents in 151 neighborhoods. The data include 116 “cousin” sets in which the parent set is not equivalent to the household. The 667 young people in the second analysis (to study marriage) live with 437 sets of parents in 141 neighborhoods. The data include 4 “cousin” sets in which the parent set is not equivalent to the household. Clustering at the household or parent level yields the same results.

  6. 6.

    To shed further light on the potential problem arising from an increasing lag between the measure of parental marital quality and children’s behavior, we also estimate hazard models of starting school—an event that would have occurred much closer to the measurement of parental marital quality—and find results that are substantively identical to those shown in Table 2. Although not a measure of the transition to adulthood, starting school is a measure of education that is likely influenced by parental marital quality through similar mechanisms as described earlier. Furthermore, when this analysis is limited to children born after 1996, the measures of marital quality are completely exogenous to the measures of child’s schooling.


  1. Acharya, M., & Bennett, L. (1981). The status of women in Nepal (Vol. II). Kathmandu, Nepal: CEDA.

  2. Ahearn, L. (2001). Invitations to love: Literacy, love letters, and social change in Nepal. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

  3. Allendorf, K. (2009). The quality of family relationships, women’s agency, and maternal and child health in India (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI.

  4. Allendorf, K. (2017). Conflict and compatibility? Developmental idealism and gendered differences in marital choice. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79, 337–355.

  5. Allendorf, K., & Ghimire, D. J. (2013). Determinants of marital quality in an arranged marriage society. Social Science Research, 42, 59–70.

  6. Allendorf, K., & Pandian, R. K. (2016). The decline of arranged marriage? Marital change and continuity in India. Population and Development Review, 42, 435–464.

  7. Allendorf, K., Thornton, A., Mitchell, C., Young-DeMarco, L., & Ghimire, D. J. (2017). Early women, late men: Timing attitudes and gender differences in marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79, 1478–1496.

  8. Allison, P. D. (1982). Discrete-time methods for the analysis of event histories. Sociological Methodology, 13, 61–98.

  9. Amato, P. R., & DeBoer, D. D. (2001). The transmission of marital instability across generations: Relationship skills or commitment to marriage? Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 1038–1051.

  10. Amato, P. R., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2001). The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well-being. American Sociological Review, 66, 900–921.

  11. Axinn, W. G., & Barber, J. S. (2001). Mass education and fertility transition. American Sociological Review, 66, 481–505.

  12. Axinn, W. G., Clarkberg, M. E., & Thornton, A. (1994). Family influence on family size preferences. Demography, 31, 65–79.

  13. Axinn, W. G., Ghimire, D. J., & Smith-Greenaway, E. (2017). Emotional variation and fertility behavior. Demography, 54, 437–458.

  14. Axinn, W. G., Ghimire, D. J., & Williams, N. E. (2012). Collecting survey data during armed conflict. Journal of Official Statistics, 28, 153–171.

  15. Bajracharya, G., & Bhandari, D. R. (2014). Nuptiality trends and differentials in Nepal. In Population Monograph of Nepal (Vol. 1, pp. 71–113). Kathmandu: Central Bureau of Statistics, Royal Government of Nepal.

  16. Baker, D., Leon, J., Smith-Greenaway, E., Collins, J., & Movit, M. (2011). The education effect on population health: A reassessment. Population and Development Review, 37, 307–332.

  17. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

  18. Barber, J. S. (2004). Community social context and individualistic attitudes toward marriage. Social Psychology Quarterly, 67, 236–256.

  19. Barber, J. S., & Axinn, W. G. (1998). Gender role attitudes and marriage among young women. Sociological Quarterly, 39, 11–31.

  20. Becker, G. S. (1991). Treatise on the family (Enlarged ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  21. Bennett, L. (1983). Dangerous wives and sacred sisters: Social and symbolic roles of high caste women in Nepal. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

  22. Beutel, A. M., & Axinn, W. G. (2002). Gender, social change, and educational attainment. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 51, 109–134.

  23. Bradbury, T. N. (1998). The developmental course of marital dysfunction. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

  24. Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964–980.

  25. Brand, J. E., & Davis, D. (2011). The impact of college education on fertility: Evidence for heterogeneous effects. Demography, 48, 863–887.

  26. Brauner-Otto, S. R. (2012). Schools, their spatial distribution and characteristics, and fertility limitation. Rural Sociology, 77, 321–354.

  27. Brauner-Otto, S. R., Axinn, W. G., & Ghimire, D. J. (2007). The spread of health services and fertility transition. Demography, 44, 747–770.

  28. Bulanda, J. R., Brown, J. S., & Yamashita, T. (2016). Marital quality, marital dissolution, and mortality risk during the later life course. Social Science & Medicine, 165, 119–127.

  29. Caldwell, J. C. (1982). Theory of fertility decline. New York, NY: Academic Press.

  30. Caldwell, J. C., Reddy, P. H., & Caldwell, P. (1988). The causes of demographic change: Experimental research in South India. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

  31. Card, D. (1999). The causal effect of education on earnings. In O. C. Ashenfelter & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 3A, pp. 1801–1863). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier Science.

  32. Card, D., & Krueger, A. B. (1992). Does school quality matter? Returns to education and the characteristics of public schools in the United States. Journal of Political Economy, 100, 1–40.

  33. Cavanagh, S. E., Schiller, K. S., & Riegle-Crumb, C. (2006). Marital transitions, parenting, and schooling: Exploring the link between family-structure history and adolescents’ academic status. Sociology of Education, 79, 329–354.

  34. Cherlin, A. J., Kiernan, K. E., & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. (1995). Parental divorce in childhood and demographic outcomes in young adulthood. Demography, 32, 299–318.

  35. Coleman, J. S. (1994). Foundations of social theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  36. Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a history: From obedience to intimacy, or how love conquered marriage. New York, NY: Viking.

  37. Cunningham, M., & Thornton, A. (2006). The influence of parents’ marital quality on adult children’s attitudes toward marriage and its alternatives: Main and moderating effects. Demography, 43, 659–672.

  38. Degler, C. N. (1980). At odds: Women and the family in America from the revolution to the present. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

  39. Desai, S., & Andrist, L. (2010). Gender scripts and age at marriage in India. Demography, 47, 667–687.

  40. Fomby, P., & Bosick, S. J. (2013). Family instability and the transition to adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 1266–1287.

  41. Fomby, P., & Cherlin, A. J. (2007). Family instability and child well-being. American Sociological Review, 72, 181–204.

  42. Fricke, T. E. (1986). Himalayan households: Tamang demography and domestic processes. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press.

  43. Fuller, C. J., & Narasimhan, H. (2008). Companionate marriage in India: The changing marriage system in a middle-class Brahman subcaste. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 14, 736–754.

  44. Ghimire, D. J., Axinn, W. G., & Smith-Greenaway, E. (2015). Impact of the spread of mass education on married women’s experience with domestic violence. Social Science Research, 54, 319–331.

  45. Ghimire, D. J., Axinn, W. G., Yabiku, S. T., & Thornton, A. (2006). Social change, premarital non-family experiences and spouse choice in an arranged marriage society. American Journal of Sociology, 111, 1181–1218.

  46. Goldberg, J. S., & Carlson, M. J. (2014). Parents’ relationship quality and children’s behavior in stable married and cohabiting families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 762–777.

  47. Goldscheider, F. K., & Goldscheider, C. (1993). Leaving home before marriage: Ethnicity, familism, and generational relationships. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

  48. Goldscheider, F. K., & Waite, L. J. (1993). New families, no families? The transformation of the American home. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  49. Goode, W. J. (1959). The theoretical importance of love. American Sociological Review, 24, 38–47.

  50. Goode, W. J. (1970). World revolution and family patterns. New York, NY: Free Press.

  51. Gullickson, A., & Torche, F. (2014). Patterns of racial and educational assortative mating in Brazil. Demography, 51, 835–856.

  52. Hamon, R. R., & Ingoldsby, B. B. (2003). Mate selection across cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

  53. Harris, K. M., Lee, H., & DeLeone, F. Y. (2010). Marriage and health in the transition to adulthood: Evidence for African Americans in the Add Health study. Journal of Family Issues, 31, 1106–1143.

  54. Heard, H. E. (2007). Fathers, mothers, and family structure: Family trajectories, parent gender, and adolescent schooling. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 435–450.

  55. Hoelter, L. F., Axinn, W. G., & Ghimire, D. J. (2004). Social change, premarital non-family experiences, and marital dynamics. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1131–1151.

  56. Hout, M. (2012). Social and economic returns to college education in the United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 379–400.

  57. James, S. L. (2014). Longitudinal patterns of women’s marital quality: The case of divorce, cohabitation, and race-ethnicity. Marriage and Family Review, 50, 738–763.

  58. James, S. L. (2015). Variation in trajectories of women’s marital quality. Social Science Research, 49, 16–30.

  59. Jennings, E. (2014). Marital discord and subsequent dissolution: Perceptions of Nepalese wives and husbands. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 476–488.

  60. Jennings, E. A. (2016). Predictors of marital dissolution during a period of rapid social change: Evidence from South Asia. Demography, 53, 1351–1375.

  61. Jennings, E. A., Axinn, W. G., & Ghimire, D. J. (2012). The effect of parents’ attitudes on sons’ marriage timing. American Sociological Review, 77, 923–945.

  62. Ji, Y. (2013). Negotiating marriage and schooling: Nepalese women’s transition to adulthood. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 646, 194–213.

  63. Johnson, D. R., Amoloza, T. O., & Booth, A. (1992). Stability and developmental change in marital quality: A three-wave panel analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 582–594.

  64. Johnson, D. R., & Booth, A. (1998). Marital quality: A product of the dyadic environment or individual factors? Social Forces, 76, 883–904.

  65. Kalmijn, M. (1991). Status homogamy in the United States. American Sociological Review, 56, 786–800.

  66. Kalmijn, M. (1994). Assortative mating by cultural and economic occupational status. American Journal of Sociology, 100, 422–452.

  67. Kalmijn, M. (2015). Family disruption and intergenerational reproduction: Comparing the influences of married parents, divorced parents, and stepparents. Demography, 52, 811–833.

  68. Khandelwal, M. (2009). Arranging love: Interrogating the vantage point in cross-border feminism. Signs, 34, 583–609.

  69. Kuo, J. C.-L., & Raley, R. K. (2016). Diverging patterns of union transition among cohabitors by race/ethnicity and education: Trends and marital intentions in the United States. Demography, 53, 921–935.

  70. Lloyd, C. B., Mensch, B. S., & Clark, W. H. (2000). The effects of primary school quality on school dropout among Kenyan girls and boys. Comparative Education Review, 44, 113–147.

  71. Loughran, D. S., & Zissimopoulos, J. M. (2009). Why wait? The effect of marriage and childbearing the wages of men and women. Journal of Human Resources, 44, 326–349.

  72. MacFarlane, A. (1976). Resource and population: A study of the Gurung of Nepal. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  73. Macro International Inc. (2007). Trends in demographic and reproductive health indicators in Nepal. Calverton, MD: Macro International Inc.

  74. Malinen, K., Kinnunen, U., Tolvanen, A., Ronka, A., Wierda-Boer, H., & Gerris, J. (2010). Happy spouses, happy parents? Family relationships among Finnish and Dutch dual earners. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 293–306.

  75. Mare, R. D. (1991). Five decades of educational assortative mating. American Sociological Review, 56, 15–32.

  76. Marini, M. (1978). The transition to adulthood: Sex differences in educational attainment and marriage. American Sociological Review, 43, 483–507.

  77. McLanahan, S., & Bumpass, L. (1988). Intergenerational consequences of family disruption. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 130–152.

  78. Mensch, B. S., & Lloyd, C. B. (1998). Gender differences in the schooling experiences of adolescents in low-income countries: The case of Kenya. Studies in Family Planning, 29, 167–184.

  79. Ministry of Education (Nepal), & UNESCO. (2015). Education for all: National review report 2001–2015. Kathmandu, Nepal: UNESCO.

  80. Ministry of Health (Nepal), New ERA, & Macro International, Inc. (1997). Nepal: Demographic and Health Survey 1996 (Report). Kathmandu: Ministry of Health, Nepal.

  81. Ministry of Health (Nepal), New ERA, & ICF. (2017). Nepal: Demographic and Health Survey 2016 (Report). Kathmandu: Ministry of Health, Nepal.

  82. Netting, N. S. (2010). Marital ideoscapes in 21st-century India: Creative combinations of love and responsibility. Journal of Family Issues, 31, 707–726.

  83. Ogburn, W. F., & Tibbets, C. (1934). The family and its functions. In the President’s Research Committee on Social Trends (Eds.), Recent social trends in the United States (Vol. 1, pp. 661–708). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

  84. Orthner, D. K., Jones-Sanpei, H., Hair, E. C., Moore, K. A., Day, R. D., & Kaye, K. (2009). Marital and parental relationship quality and educational outcomes for youth. Marriage and Family Review, 45, 249–269.

  85. Page, M. E., & Stevens, A. H. (2005). Understanding racial differences in the economic costs of growing up in a single-parent family. Demography, 42, 75–90.

  86. Pasupathi, M. (2002). Women and arranged marriages: What’s love got to do with it? In M. Yalom & L. L. Carstensen (Eds.), Rethinking the couple: Some feminist answers (pp. 211–235). Berkeley: University of California Press.

  87. Pearce, L. D., Brauner-Otto, S. R., & Ji, Y. (2015). Explaining religious differentials in family size preferences: Evidence from Nepal in 1996. Population Studies, 65, 23–37.

  88. Pearlman, J., Pearce, L. D., Ghimire, D. J., Bhandari, P., & Hargrove, T. (2017). Social contexts and the living arrangements of recently married sons: Understanding factors driving household fission. Demography, 54, 1425–1449.

  89. Rijken, A. J., & Liefbroer, A. C. (2009). Influence of the family of origin on the timing and quantum of fertility in the Netherlands. Population Studies, 63, 71–85.

  90. Rindfuss, R. R., & Morgan, S. P. (1983). Marriage, sex, and the first birth interval: The quiet revolution in Asia. Population and Development Review, 9, 259–278.

  91. Santhya, K. G., Ram, U., Acharya, R., Jejeebhoy, S. J., Ram, F., & Singh, A. (2010). Associations between early marriage and young women’s marital and reproductive health outcomes: Evidence from India. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 36, 132–139.

  92. Shek, D. T. L. (1998). Linkage between marital quality and parent-child relationship: A longitudinal study in the Chinese culture. Journal of Family Issues, 19, 687–704.

  93. Sun, Y., & Li, Y. (2011). Effects of family structure type and stability on children’s academic performance trajectories. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 541–556.

  94. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.

  95. Thornton, A., Axinn, W. G., & Xie, Y. (2007). Marriage and cohabitation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  96. Thornton, A., & Fricke, T. E. (1987). Social change and the family: Comparative perspectives from the West, China, and South Asia. Sociological Forum, 2, 746–779.

  97. Thornton, A., & Lin, H.-S. (1994). Social change and the family in Taiwan. Chicago, IL: the University of Chicago Press.

  98. Umberson, D., Williams, K., Powers, D. A., Chen, M. D., & Campbell, A. M. (2005). As good as it gets? A life course perspective on marital quality. Social Forces, 84, 493–511.

  99. UNICEF, & International Child Development Centre. (2001). Early marriage: Child spouses (Innocenti Digest No. 7). Florence, Italy: UNICEF, Innocenti Research Centre.

  100. Vātsyāyana. (2009). Kamasutra: A new, complete English translation of the Sanskrit text: With excerpts from the Sanskrit Jayamangala commentary of Yashodhara Indrapada, the Hindi Jaya commentary of Devadatta Shastri, and explanatory notes by the translators (W. Doniger & S. Kakar, Trans.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  101. Whiteman, S. D., Mchale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2007). Longitudinal changes in marital relationships: The role of offspring’s pubertal development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1005–1020.

  102. Willis, R. J. (1973). A new approach to the economic theory of fertility behavior. Journal of Political Economy, 81(2, Part 2), S14–S64.

  103. Wolfinger, N. H. (2003). Parental divorce and offspring marriage: Early or late? Social Forces, 82, 337–353.

  104. Yabiku, S. T. (2004). Marriage timing in Nepal: Organizational effects and individual mechanisms. Social Forces, 83, 559–586.

  105. Yabiku, S. T. (2005). The effect of non-family experiences on age of marriage in a setting of rapid social change. Population Studies, 59, 339–354.

  106. Yabiku, S. T. (2006). Neighbors and neighborhoods: Effects on marriage timing. Population Research and Policy Review, 25, 305–327.

  107. Yeung, W. J., Desai, S., & Jones, G. W. (2018). Families in Southeast and South Asia. Annual Review of Sociology, 44, 469–495.

Download references


This research was generously supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD032912 and R24 HD041028). We gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Cathy Sun at the Population Studies Center for data management assistance, staff at the Institute for Social and Environment Research–Nepal, and the residents of the Western Chitwan Valley for their contributions to the research reported here. The authors alone remain responsible for any errors or omissions.

Author information

Correspondence to Sarah R. Brauner-Otto.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Brauner-Otto, S.R., Axinn, W.G. & Ghimire, D.J. Parents’ Marital Quality and Children’s Transition to Adulthood. Demography (2020).

Download citation


  • Intergenerational relationships
  • Marital quality
  • Education
  • Marriage
  • Transition to adulthood