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

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Family size varies across (but not within) nuclear families. If we include \(c_{jk}\) in Eq. 2, we would only be able to identify the effect of explanatory variables that vary both within extended and nuclear families, i.e. the x variables.

  2. 2.

    We have analysed if the variation that exists in in-married spouse’s number of siblings is similar across the distribution of Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) families’ socioeconomic characteristics (measured by A and B’s income and education). For example, it might be that individuals from high-income families tend to marry partners with less variation in family size compared to individuals from low-income families. We find no evidence that differences in in-married spouses’ number of siblings vary across the distribution of A and B’s income and education (results available upon request).

  3. 3.

    This reduction does not affect our analytical sample much since more than 97% of all extended families in the WLS have more than one child.

  4. 4.

    We impute missing information on total family income using data on the WLS graduate and the sibling respondent’s personal income in 1974 and household income in 1992.

  5. 5.

    The WLS includes some information on the socioeconomic characteristics of the first generation (i.e.\({\text{AB}}_{ - 1}\),\({\text{A'}}_{ - 1}\), and \({\text{B'}}_{ - 1}\)). Unfortunately, although there is considerable information on \({\text{AB}}_{ - 1}\) (education, income, SES, etc.), and some information on \({\text{A'}}_{ - 1}\), the only available information on \({\text{B'}}_{ - 1}\) is family size. Given that most of our substantive analyses rely on variation within the extended family, the only variable in the first generation that we can (and do) use is family size.

  6. 6.

    N is slightly higher in the OLS models than in the EFFE models (which we discuss next) because in the former we also include extended families with only one observation in the child generation. OLS results are identical if we use the restricted sample in which we only include extended families with two or more children.

  7. 7.

    In addition to the results reported here, we have also run the EFFE model separately for all different gender combinations of the sibling pair A and B (i.e. two brothers, two sisters, and one brother and one sister). All combinations yield statistically significant and negative estimates of the effect of family size on educational attainment (and all estimates are statistically indistinguishable from the one presented in model 4; results are available upon request).

  8. 8.

    We have replicated the traditional twin birth and sex composition IVs in our WLS data and find that neither produces a statistically significant estimate of the effect of family size on educational attainment. Results are available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

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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Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 4, 5.

Table 4 Regressions of family size on children’s educational attainment
Table 5 Results from EFFE-IV regressions of children’s educational attainment (model 8)

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Blaabæk, E.H., Jæger, M.M. & Molitoris, J. Family Size and Educational Attainment: Cousins, Contexts, and Compensation. Eur J Population 36, 575–600 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-019-09543-y

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Keywords

  • Family size
  • Resource dilution
  • Educational attainment
  • Fixed effects
  • Instrumental variables
  • Contexts