Research has documented a negative association between women’s educational attainment and early sexual intercourse, union formation, and pregnancy. However, the implications that school progression relative to age may have for the timing and order of such transitions are poorly understood. In this article, I argue that educational attainment has different implications depending on a student’s progression through school grades relative to her age. Using month of birth and age-at-school-entry policies to estimate the effect of advanced school progression by age, I show that it accelerates the occurrence of family formation and sexual onset among teenage women in Mexico. Focusing on girls aged 15–17 interviewed by a national survey, I find that those who progress through school ahead of their birth cohort have a higher probability of having had sex, been pregnant, and cohabited by the time of interview. I argue that this pattern of behaviors is explained by experiences that lead them to accelerate their transition to adulthood compared with same-age students with fewer completed school grades, such as exposure to relatively older peers in school and completing academic milestones earlier in life. Among girls who got pregnant, those with an advanced school progression by age are more likely to engage in drug use, alcohol consumption, and smoking before conception; more likely to have pregnancy-related health complications; and less likely to attend prenatal care visits. Thus, an advanced school progression by age has substantial implications for the health and well-being of young women, with potential intergenerational consequences.
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Low- and middle-income here are defined according to the United Nation's income-based country categories (United Nations 2018).
In contrast, in Norway, Sweden, and the United States, less than 4 % of girls aged 12–14, and less than 10 % of those aged 15–17 were out of school as of 2012 (UIS 2015).
Past studies have also assessed the effect of school starting age on other outcomes, such as educational attainment and earnings in the United States (Angrist and Keueger 1991; Dobkin and Ferreira 2010) and Sweden (Fredriksson and Öckert 2013), although results have been mixed and highly dependent on the configuration of compulsory schooling laws in each country.
However, given the compulsory schooling laws in North Carolina, Cook and Kang (2016) also found that late starters are more likely to drop out of high school and commit a felony offense by age 19.
About 16 % of women with an ASPA in the data had actually completed two more school grades than expected for their age, possibly because having a daughter born in August makes it easier for parents to negotiate her school enrollment before age 6, despite it being unusual. The other 84 % had completed only one more grade, as expected. The results of all the analyses remain unchanged if the 16 % of women with the most advanced school progression are excluded. But for simplicity, throughout this article, I refer to the entire group of women with an ASPA as having completed one more grade than expected for their age.
This is an instrument similar to that used by Angrist and Keueger (1991), with the exception that this analysis does not use the combination of compulsory schooling laws and month of birth as an instrumental variable.
This is true for girls who are still enrolled in school or for those who have dropped out and spent less than one school year out of school. For girls who dropped out more than a school year before the interview date, this variable is not informative. To test the sensitivity of results to this limitation, I estimated the same bivariate probit models excluding girls who did not complete any grade beyond elementary school (seventh grade or higher) because they are likely to have abandoned school more than a school year before the interview date. Results using this restricted sample are closely similar to those in Table 4.
I exclude from the analysis girls born during September because they are less likely to follow the age-at-school-entry rule. Given that their date of birth would be less than a month away from the cutoff, school officials commonly allow children born in September to enroll before they turn age 6, even if their birth date is not September 1. Focusing the analysis on girls born in August and October reduces uncertainty in enrollment practices for children born in September.
Preschool education was neither mandatory nor widely available in Mexico between 1994 and 2001, which is the year range within which the women in the study (born between 1991 and 1998) would have become 3 years old.
I use a homogenized age-at-interview variable that records full years of age in July of the corresponding interview year. Because interview dates in the 2014 wave ranged from August to September, some respondents were n years old at the time of interview, while some of their counterparts born within less than three months had already turned n + 1. If full years of age at the exact interview date were included in the model as a control for age, they would distort the real distance in biological age for respondents who have a birth date in August. The homogenized age at interview used in the models is perfectly collinear with year of birth, which is not included as a covariate.
This implied excluding 15 % of girls born in October and 17 % of girls born in August among those who had ever been pregnant.
The sample contains too few miscarriage and stillbirth cases to be able to assess the effect of month of birth on the prevalence of each of these outcomes separately.
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I am deeply grateful to Florencia Torche, Paula England, Lawrence Wu, Julia Behrman, José Ortiz, Andrés Villarreal, Michael Rendall, three anonymous reviewers, and the members of the New York University Inequality Workshop for their valuable comments on previous drafts. All remaining errors are my own. I gratefully acknowledge support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Child Health and Human Development Grant P2C-HD041041, Maryland Population Research Center.
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Caudillo, M.L. Advanced School Progression Relative to Age and Early Family Formation in Mexico. Demography 56, 863–890 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-00782-6
- Transitions to adulthood
- Sociology of education
- Peer effects