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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.

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  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.


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

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Correspondence to Songtao Yang.

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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.

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See Table 5.

Table 5 The estimates at alternative cutoffs (placebo tests)

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Yang, S. The effects of compulsory schooling reforms on women’s marriage outcomes—evidence from Britain. Empir Econ 63, 1637–1662 (2022).

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  • Education
  • Marriage
  • Compulsory schooling
  • RD design

JEL Classification

  • H52
  • I26
  • J12