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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.

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  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.


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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.

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Correspondence to Sarah R. Brauner-Otto.

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Brauner-Otto, S.R., Axinn, W.G. & Ghimire, D.J. Parents’ Marital Quality and Children’s Transition to Adulthood. Demography (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-00851-w

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