Family courts now encourage both parents to maintain contact with their children following separation/divorce, believing this is in the child’s best interest. We use geographical distance between non-resident parents and their children to test how such distance is related to educational and behavioral outcomes within a population sample of children from nonnuclear families in Denmark. As this distance is a choice, non-resident parents may choose where to live in part based on expected child outcomes; results that fail to take endogeneity into account will be biased. We use instrumental variable techniques to control for this potential endogeneity. The results indicate educational outcomes are somewhat better for all and behavioral outcomes are at least no worse for girls who live at a greater distance from their non-resident parent. Failing to control for endogeneity seems to bias the results for behavioral outcomes in favor of more proximate parents. Thus, policy efforts to keep separated parents geographically closer for the sake of their children may in fact not be advantageous.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Greater distance may also reflect greater power in the hands of the residential parent and such power could be wielded to produce better child outcomes. Interpreting the results as a consequence of distance per se may in this case be inappropriate. That we control for each parent’s education level and earnings should help mitigate this possibility.
Proximate non-resident fathers live in the same economic region as their child for more than 90 % of the time. In Norway, there are 46 economic regions, each with an average population of about 86,000 people.
Cohabiting persons who share biological children are clearly identified by Statistics Denmark. Other adults are classified as cohabiting couples if they reside in the same household, are no more than fifteen years apart in age, are of opposite gender, and are not in any way related.
Eight percent of the parents in our sample reunite. This number is in line with the 10 % rate at which formal divorces are annulled in Norway (Steele et al. 2009).
Different distances are further investigated in the sensitivity analysis in Sect. 6.
As we do not know the location of education acquired abroad, persons last educated abroad are included in our analysis only based on where in Denmark they received their education.
Most notably children missing information are more likely not Danish, less likely to be first born, and more likely to have older and somewhat more educated parents. This is not surprising since education information for those completing their education before 1974 and for those obtaining all their education outside of Denmark originate from the Population and Housing Census and Immigration Census, respectively, and is self-reported and therefore likely imperfect (Jensen and Rasmussen 2011).
In the case that pre-birth education is missing, post-birth values are used.
Other techniques to control for endogeneity (given feasible data) include taking an individual or sibling fixed-effects approach, investigating growth curve models, using propensity score matching, or using lagged dependent variables (McLanahan et al. 2013). Sibling fixed-effects models are a common choice for studying educational outcomes, but Sigle-Rushton et al. (2014) show that this method can lead to biased results if all relevant factors are not taken appropriately into account.
Remember, DBE measures distance between the municipalities where each parent last completed some education prior to separating, whereas DBHP uses distance between parents’ high school municipalities (if the information is available), else distance between last municipality of education.
Testing the relation between these instrument values and household structure may be particularly important if partners who are educated apart are ‘stronger’, more independent minded types who are perhaps less similar to one another and therefore more likely to separate. DBE does not appear to be strongly indicative of such personality types.
For completeness, IV estimates for the educational outcome are reported in the first column of Table 3. Results using instrument restricted samples to model educational outcomes without IV are similar to the results for the full estimation sample, but with larger standard errors as expected. Thus, the differences observed between the OLS and IV results are not a function of sample composition.
This amounts to about 600 observations. However, our number of parents abroad is probably a lower bound as it only captures those who are registered as living abroad for a significant amount of time.
The sample of children living only with their father is too small to provide meaningful results (sample size of only 446: 169 girls, 277 boys). However we find substantially similar results to those reported for children only living with mothers when we also include those only living with fathers.
Exogeneity is not rejected at the 10 % level in the case of girls whose fathers’ have a high school education. The sample size in this case is very small.
Uusitalo-Malmivaara and Lehto (2013) report qualitative differences in the predictors of happiness between genders. A great number of friends predicts high happiness for boys. For girls, instead, good relationships with other people (girl/boy friend, friends of the same sex, teachers, etc.) are related to high happiness. For both boys and girls, a small number of friends predicts low happiness. Disruptions of networks likely affect both the number of friends and the number of close ties.
It is notable that some research in Denmark finds that even when parents sharing physical custody of a child are only a short distance apart, some children moving between their parents’ households report that they feel they are ‘living in a suitcase’. Furthermore, these children also have to adjust to household-specific rules and guidelines each time they move (Ottosen et al. 2011).
Altindag, D. T., Nunley, J., & Seals, A. (2015). Child-custody reform and the division of labor in the household. Review of Economics of the Household. doi:10.1007/s11150-015-9282-0.
Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(4), 1269–1287.
Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 650–666.
Amato, P. R., & Gilbreth, J. G. (1999). Nonresident fathers and children’s well-being: A Meta analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(3), 557–573.
Amato, P. R., Kane, J. B., & James, S. (2011). Reconsider the ‘Good Divorce’. Family Relations, 60(5), 511–524.
Becker, G. S., Landes, E. M., & Michael, R. T. (1977). An economic analysis of marital instability. Journal of Political Economy, 85(6), 1141–1187.
Becker, G. S., & Tomes, N. (1986). Human capital and the rise and fall of families. Journal of Labor Economics, 4(3, Part 2), S1–S39.
Cancian, M., Meyer, D. R., Brown, P. R., & Cook, S. T. (2014). Who gets custody now? Dramatic changes in children’s living arrangements after divorce. Demography, 51(4), 1381–1396.
Cheadle, J. E., Amato, P. R., & King, V. (2010). Patterns of nonresident father contact. Demography, 47(1), 205–225.
Cobb-Clark, D. A., & Tekin, E. (2014). Fathers and youth’s delinquent behavior. Review of Economics of the Household, 12(2), 327–358.
Cooksey, E. C., & Craig, P. H. (1998). Parenting from a distance: The effects of paternal characteristics on contact between nonresidential fathers and their children. Demography, 35(2), 187–200.
Fehlberg, B., Smyth, B., Maclean, M. S., & Roberts, C. (2011). Legislating for shared time parenting after separation: A research review. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 25(3), 318–331.
Fomby, P., & Cherlin, A. J. (2007). Family instability and child well-being. American Sociological Review, 72(2), 181–204.
Hahn, M. & Wilkins, R. (2014). Family circumstances and care arrangements of children. In. R. Wilkins, (Ed.) Families, Incomes and Jobs, Volume 9: A Statistical Report on Waves 1 to 11 of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. Melbourne, NSW, Australia: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.
Haussen, T. & Uebelmesser, S. (2015). No place like home? Graduate migration in Germany. CESifo Working Paper No. 5524. Munich.
Hawkins, D. N., Amato, P. R., & King, V. (2007). Nonresident father involvement and adolescent well-being: Father effects or child effects? American Sociological Review, 72(6), 990–1010.
Hofferth, S. L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection. Demography, 43(1), 53–77.
Iacovou, M. & Skew, A. (2010). Household structure in the EU. Eurostat Methodologies and Working Papers.
Jacob, B. A. (2002). Where the boys aren’t: Non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education. Economics of Education Review, 21(6), 589–598.
Jensen, V. M., & Rasmussen, A. W. (2011). The Danish education registers. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 39(7), 91–94.
Jones, A. (2015). Fathers seek parity in custody cases. Wall Street Journal, April 17, A3.
Kalil, A., Mogstad, M., Rege, M., & Votruba, M. (2011). Divorced fathers’ proximity and children’s long run outcomes: Evidence from Norwegian registry data. Demography, 48(3), 1005–1027.
King, V. (2006). The antecedents and consequences of adolescents’ relationships with stepfathers and nonresident fathers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(4), 910–928.
Lamb, M. E., Sternberg, K. J., & Thompson, R. A. (1997). The effects of divorce and custody arrangements on children’s behavior, development, and adjustment. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 35(4), 393–404.
McLanahan, S., Tach, L., & Schneider, D. (2013). The causal effects of father absence. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 399–427.
Mulder, C. H., & Wagner, M. (2012). Moving after separation: The role of location-specific capital. Housing Studies, 27(6), 839–852.
Nielsen, L. (2011). Shared parenting after divorce: A review of shared residential parenting research. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52(8), 586–609.
Ottosen, M.H, Stage, S., & Jensen, H.S. (2011). Børn i deleordninger. En kvalitativ undersøgelse. (Children in shared custody arrangements. A qualitative study). SFI report No. 11:38. Copenhagen.
Price, J. (2008). Parent–child quality time: Does birth order matter? Journal of Human Resources, 43(1), 240–265.
Sigle-Rushton, W., Lyngstad, T. H., Andersen, P. L., & Kravdal, Ø. (2014). Proceed with caution? Parents’ union dissolution and children’s educational achievement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(1), 161–174.
Steele, F., Sigle-Rushton, W., & Kravdal, Ø. (2009). Consequences of family disruption on children’s educational outcomes in Norway. Demography, 46(3), 553–574.
Stock, J. H., Wright, J. H., & Yogo, M. (2002). A survey of weak instruments and weak identification in generalized method of moments. Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, 20(4), 518–529.
Svarer, M., & Verner, M. (2008). Do children stabilize relationships in Denmark? Journal of Population Economics, 21(2), 395–417.
U.S. Department of the Census. (2013). Living Arrangements of Children under Age 18 and Marital Status of Parents: 2013. Accessed 23 July 2014. http://www.census.gov/hhes/familes/data/cps2013C.html.
Uusitalo-Malmivaara, L., & Lehto, J. E. (2013). Social factors explaining children’s subjective happiness and depressive symptoms. Social Indicators Research, 111(2), 603–615.
Viry, G. (2014). Coparenting and children’s adjustment to divorce: The role of geographical distance from fathers. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 55(7), 503–526.
White, L., & Gilbreth, J. G. (2001). When children have two fathers: Effects of relationships with stepfathers and noncustodial fathers on adolescent outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(1), 155–167.
Winters, J. V. (2011). Human capital and population growth in nonmetropolitan U.S. counties: The importance of college student migration. Economic Development Quarterly, 25(4), 353–365.
Wolfe, B., Haveman, R., Ginther, D., & An, C. B. (1996). The ‘window problem’ in studies of children’s attainments: A methodological exploration. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 91(435), 970–982.
Yuan, A. S. V., & Hamilton, H. A. (2006). Stepfather involvement and adolescent well-being: Do mothers and nonresidential fathers matter? Journal of Family Issues, 27(9), 1191–1213.
Financial support from The Danish Social Science Research Council is gratefully acknowledged. We would like to thank participants at the seminar series at SOFI, Stockholm University, 2011; SFI, Copenhagen, 2013; DIW, Berlin, 2015; the University of Sydney, 2016; and the Life Course Center at the University of Queensland, 2016 for all their comments. Furthermore, comments from participants at ESPE 2010, EEA 2010, the Danish Microeconometric Network meeting in Skagen, 2010, and the Economics of the Family Conference in Paris, 2011, are gratefully acknowledged. All errors remain our own.
About this article
Cite this article
Rasmussen, A.W., Stratton, L.S. How distance to a non-resident parent relates to child outcomes. Rev Econ Household 14, 829–857 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-016-9338-9