Skip to main content

The effects of compulsory schooling reforms on women’s marriage outcomes—evidence from Britain


This paper estimates the policy effect of a compulsory schooling reform in Britain in 1972 on women’s marriage outcomes. Using a regression discontinuity design and data from the General Household Survey 1982–2001, I find that although the reform reduced women’s probability of marriage as a teenager, it has no effects on their probability of never being married. For ever married women, I find that the effects of the reform on their probability of being divorced or separated are not statistically significant. Moreover, for currently married women, I find that the reform reduces the age gap between husband and wife by about 0.3 to 0.4 years. To explore the mechanisms, I find that the reform increases women’s probability of marrying a similarly aged husband by about 4.8 to 5.8 percentage points, implying that the reform strengthens assortative mating in terms of age. Overall, the findings imply that compulsory schooling reforms aimed at improving citizens’ educational attainment can also have substantial impacts on their marriage outcomes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8


  1. Longer compulsory education may have little effects on health and mortality (e.g., Clark and Royer 2013) and attitudinal trust (e.g., Yang 2019).

  2. It is well documented that education can increase the wage rate and earnings (e.g., Angrist and Krueger 1991; Card 1999, 2001; Grenet 2013).

  3. Enforcement of school attendance: If students are missing from school at compulsory schooling ages, the parents may be prosecuted and may face a fine of up to 2500 pounds, a community order, or a jail sentence up to 3 months.

  4. See Lefgren and McIntyre (2006) for a detailed discussion about this issue.

  5. Many previous studies also estimate the effects of compulsory schooling reforms directly rather than use the reforms as instruments for schooling (e.g., Black et al. 2008; Kirdar et al. 2018). Also, Godefroy and Lewis (2018) estimate the effects of educational reforms in Mali in 1992 on men’s fertility decisions.

  6. For applications of both local polynomial and parametric (global) approaches, see, e.g., Akyol and Kirdar (2020) and Aydemir et al. (2021).

  7. For instance, for years of schooling, the estimated AMSE are 0.0060, 0.0132, and 0.0238 for polynomial orders 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

  8. The GHS has been carried out continuously every year, except for breaks in 1997–1998 when the survey was reviewed, and 1999–2000 when the survey was redeveloped. The GHS data have been used in many studies, such as Oreopoulos (2007) and Clark and Royer (2013).

  9. The latest survey data sets are not available to researchers outside the UK.

  10. The marriage indicator does not include common law marriage (informal marriage or cohabiting couples). Note that in the UK, common law marriage does not confer on cohabiting parties any of the rights or obligations enjoyed by married spouses or civil partners. Thus, it is reasonable to distinguish common law marriage from formal marriage. Previous studies such as Anderberg and Zhu (2014) also exclude informal marriage or cohabitation from their analysis.

  11. In the sample, the proportion of females is about 0.51 and that of males is about 0.49.

  12. The missing information is mainly on “age left full-time education” and older people are more likely to have missing information. From the survey, we do not know why this information is missing, which is a deficiency of the data. But the missing information is not a big concern here, since my analysis focuses on women who are relatively younger (25–46).

  13. In my sample, the 50th percentile of age at first marriage is about 22, and the 75th percentile is about 25. Because I explore the effects on women’s probabilities of marriage and divorce, it is better not to include women who are still at a relatively young age (for example at 20 years old). As a result, I choose a sample of women aged 25 and above. Moreover, I have tried to restrict my sample to women aged 20 and above and found that all the results are similar.

  14. In the 2001 census, the proportion of immigrants is about 8.3% and the proportion of whites is about 92.12%. The sample statistics are reasonable because the surveys were conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, when the proportion of whites was a little bit higher.

  15. The immigrants are excluded for two reasons. First, I do not know when they arrived in the UK, so I cannot decide whether they were affected by the law or not. Second, the immigrants came from different countries, so they could have started school at different ages in their home countries.

  16. Note that in my sample, the 95th percentile of age at first marriage is 29 years old. Thus, I choose a sub-sample of women who are aged 30 and above. I also tried to estimate the effects using a sub-sample of women aged 40 and above. But there are very few observations aged above 40 in my sample, which cannot generate meaningful estimates.

  17. I would like to check whether the reform increases women’s probability of marrying a classmate. But in the data there is no information on how the spouses came to know each other.

  18. I have tried an alternative way to define a similarly aged husband: the husband has exactly the same age as the wife or the husband is one year older or younger than the wife. The results are similar.


  • Akyol P, Kirdar MG (2020) Does education really cause domestic violence? Replication and Reappraisal of ”For Better or For Worse? Education and the Prevalence of Domestic Violence in Turkey”. IZA Discussion Paper No. 14001

  • Anderberg D, Zhu Y (2014) What a difference a term makes: the effect of educational attainment on marital outcomes in the UK. J Popul Econ 27(2):387–419

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Angrist JD, Krueger AB (1991) Does compulsory school attendance affect schooling and earnings. Q J Econ 106(4):979–1014

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aydemir A, Kirdar MG, Torun H (2021) The effect of education on geographic mobility: incidence, timing, and type of migration. IZA discussion paper no. 14013

  • Black SE, Devereux PJ, Salvanes KG (2008) Staying in the classroom and out of the maternity ward? The effect of compulsory schooling laws on teenage births. Econ J 118:1025–1054

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Calonico S, Cattaneo MD, Farrell MH, Titiunik R (2017) Rdrobust: software for regression-discontinuity designs. Stata J 17(2):372–404

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Card D (1999) The causal effect of education on earnings. In: Ashenfelter O, Card D (eds) Handbook of labor economics, Chapter 30, vol 3. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 1801–1863

    Google Scholar 

  • Card D (2001) Estimating the return to schooling: progress on some persistent econometric problems. Econometrica 69(5):1127–1160

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cattaneo MD, Idrobo N, Titiunik R (2019) A practical introduction to regression discontinuity designs: foundations. Elements in Quantitative and Computational Methods for the Social Sciences

  • Cattaneo MD, Jansson M, Ma X (2020) Simple local polynomial density estimators. J Am Stat Assoc 115(531):1449–1455

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cattaneo MD, Titiunik R, Vazquez-Bare G (2020b) The regression discontinuity design. In: Handbook of research methods in political science and international relations, Chapter 44. Sage Publications, pp 835–857

  • Cherlin A (1977) The effect of children on marital dissolution. Demography 14(3):265

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clark D, Royer H (2013) The effect of education on adult health and mortality: evidence from Britain. Am Econ Rev 103(6):2087–2120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeCicca P, Krashinsky H (2020) Does education reduce teen fertility? Evidence from compulsory schooling laws. J Health Econ 69:102268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dee TS (2004) Are there civic returns to education? J Public Econ 88:1697–1720

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Du H, Xiao Y, Zhao L (2021) Education and gender role attitudes. J Popul Econ 34:475–513

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gelman A, Imbens G (2019) Why high-order polynomials should not be used in regression discontinuity designs. J Bus Econ Stat 37(3):447–456

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Godefroy R, Lewis J (2018) Does male education affect fertility? Evidence from Mali. Econ Lett 172:118–122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldin C (1992) The meaning of college in the lives of American women: the past one-hundred years. NBER working paper no. 4099

  • Grenet J (2013) Is extending compulsory schooling alone enough to raise earnings? Evidence from French and British compulsory schooling laws. Scand J Econ 115(1):176–210

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hener T, Wilson T (2018). Marital age gaps and educational homogamy—evidence from a compulsory schooling reform in the UK. Ifo working paper, no. 256. Ifo Institute, Munich

  • Juhn C, Murphy KM (1997) Wage inequality and family labor supply. J Labor Econ 15(1):72–97

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kiernan KE (1986) Teenage marriage and marital breakdown: a longitudinal study. Popul Stud 40(1):35–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kirdar MG, Dayioglu M, Koç İ (2018) The effects of compulsory-schooling laws on teenage marriage and births in Turkey. J Hum Capital 12(4):640–668

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lampard R (2013) Age at marriage and the risk of divorce in England and Wales. Demogr Res 29:167–202

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee W-S, McKinnish T (2018) The marital satisfaction of differently aged couples. J Popul Econ 31(2):337–362

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lefgren L, McIntyre F (2006) The relationship between women’s education and marriage outcomes. J Labor Econ 24(4):787–830

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehrer E, Chen Y (2013) Delayed entry into first marriage and marital stability. Demogr Res 29:521–542

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehrer E, Son Y (2017) Women’s age at first marriage and marital instability in the United States: differences by race and ethnicity. Demogr Res 37:229–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehrer EL (2008) Age at marriage and marital instability: revisiting the Becker–Landes–Michael hypothesis. J Popul Econ 21(2):463–484

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lillard LA, Brien MJ, Waite LJ (1995) Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital dissolution: a matter of self-selection? Demography 32(3):437–457

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mansour H, McKinnish T (2014) Who marries differently aged spouses? Ability, education, occupation, earnings, and appearance. Rev Econ Stat 96(3):577–580

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mare RD (1991) Five decades of educational assortative mating. Am Sociol Rev 56(1):15–32

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meyer AG (2017) The impact of education on political ideology: evidence from European compulsory education reforms. Econ Educ Rev 56:9–23

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Milligan K, Moretti E, Oreopoulos P (2004) Does education improve citizenship? Evidence from the United States and the United Kingdom. J Public Econ 88:1667–1695

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oppenheimer VK (1988) A theory of marriage timing. Am J Sociol 94(3):563–591

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oreopoulos P (2007) Do dropouts drop out too soon? Wealth, health and happiness from compulsory schooling. J Public Econ 91(11–12):2213–2229

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oreopoulos P, Salvanes KG (2011) Priceless: the nonpecuniary benefits of schooling. J Econ Perspect 25(1):159–184

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pei Z, Lee DS, Card D, Weber A (2021) Local polynomial order in regression discontinuity designs. J Bus Econ Stat Econ Stat 2021:1–9

    Google Scholar 

  • Rotz D (2016) Why have divorce rates fallen? The role of womens age at marriage. J Hum Resour 51(4):961–1002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Silles MA (2011) The effect of schooling on teenage childbearing: evidence using changes in compulsory education laws. J Popul Econ 24(2):761–777

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stevenson B, Wolfers J (2007) Marriage and divorce: changes and their driving forces. J Econ Perspect 21(2):27–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weiss Y, Willis RJ (1997) Match quality, new information, and marital dissolution. J Labor Econ 15(1):293–329

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yang S (2019) Does education foster trust? Evidence from compulsory schooling reform in the UK. Econ Educ Rev 70:48–60

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yang S (2021) Education and social preferences: quasi-experimental evidence from compulsory schooling reforms. Appl Econ Lett 2021:1–8

    Google Scholar 

  • Yang S (2021) More education, less prejudice against sexual minorities? Evidence from compulsory schooling reforms. Appl Econ Lett 2021:1–7

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities [Grant No. x2jmC2181160].

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Songtao Yang.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

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

I thank the editor, an anonymous associate editor, an anonymous referee, V Bhaskar, Fali Huang, Lars Lefgren, Haoming Liu, Yi Lu, Junjian Yi, and seminar participants at The Econometric Society World Congress 2020, AASLE 2019 Conference, 2018 China Meeting of the Econometric Society, 2017 Asian Meeting of the Econometric Society, Jinan University, National University of Singapore, and South China University of Technology for their helpful comments. I am grateful to the UK data archive for providing access to the data sets.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (pdf 394 KB)



See Table 5.

Table 5 The estimates at alternative cutoffs (placebo tests)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yang, S. The effects of compulsory schooling reforms on women’s marriage outcomes—evidence from Britain. Empir Econ (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Education
  • Marriage
  • Compulsory schooling
  • RD design

JEL Classification

  • H52
  • I26
  • J12