Eastern Economic Journal

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 621–648 | Cite as

Maternal Life Satisfaction, Marital Status, and Child Skill Formation

  • Dimitrios NikolaouEmail author
Original Article


I examine if the documented positive relationship between marriage and child outcomes represents a maternal life satisfaction effect. By treating life satisfaction and marital status as endogenous in the skill production process, I show that there is a distinct happiness and a distinct marriage effect; marriage increases cognitive skills and decreases conduct problems, while maternal happiness increases social and self-regulation skills to an equivalent of up to £ 38,000 per year. Thus, promoting healthy and happy marriages can be more effective than policies that promote marriage, and life satisfaction is an avenue through which non-married mothers can produce high quality children.


life satisfaction marriage child development (non)cognitive skills item response theory 


J12 J13 C33 


Supplementary material

41302_2016_60_MOESM1_ESM.doc (281 kb)
supplemental data appendix


  1. Almlund, M., A.L. Duckworth, J.J. Heckman, and T. Kautz. 2011. Personality Psychology and Economics. in Handbook of The Economics of Education. edited by Eric A. Hanushek, Stephen Machin and Ludger Woessmann. Volume 4. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1–181.Google Scholar
  2. Amato, P.R. 2005. The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social and Emotional Well-being of the Next Generation. The Future of Children, 15(2): 75–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amato, P.R., and B. Hohmann-Marriott. 2007. A Comparison of High- and Low-distress Marriages that End in Divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(3): 621–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Argyle, M. 1999. Causes and Correlates of Happiness. in Well-being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. edited by Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener and Norbert Schwarz. New York: Russell Stage, 173–187.Google Scholar
  5. Becker, G.S. 1973. A Theory of Marriage: Part I. Journal of Political Economy, 81(4): 813–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belsky, J. 1997. Classical and Contextual Determinants of Attachment Security. in Development of Interaction and Attachment: Traditional and Non-traditional Approaches. edited by Willem Koops, Jan B. Joeksma and Dymph C. van den Boom. Amsterdam: North Holland, 39–58.Google Scholar
  7. Berger, E.M., and K.K. Spiess. 2011. Maternal Life Satisfaction and Child Outcomes: Are They Related? Journal of Economic Psychology, 32(1): 142–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Binder, M., and A. Coad. 2010. An Examination of the Dynamics of Well-being and Life Events Using Vector Autoregressions. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 76(2): 352–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Binder, M., and F. Ward. 2011. The Structure of Happiness: A Vector Autoregressive Approach. Papers on Economics and Evolution No.1108, Max Plank Institute of Economics.Google Scholar
  10. Borghans, L., H. Meijers, and Bas ter Weel. 2008. The Role of Noncognitive Skills in Explaining Cognitive Test Scores. Economic Inquiry, 46(1): 2–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bowden, R.J., and D.A. Turkington. 1981. A Comparative Study of Instrumental Variables Estimators for Nonlinear Simultaneous Models. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 76(376): 988–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bowden, R.J., and D.A. Turkington. 1984. Instrumental Variables. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  13. Canli, T., and K.-P. Lesch. 2007. Long Story Short: The Serotonin Transporter in Emotion Regulation and Social Cognition. Nature Neuroscience, 10(9): 1103–1109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Charles, K.K., and M.C. Luoh. 2010. Male Incarceration, the Marriage Market and Female Outcomes. Review of Economics and Statistics, 92(3): 614–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Connolly, M. 2013. Some Like It Mild and Not Too Wet: The Influence of Weather on Subjective Well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(2): 457–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cooper, C.E., Cynthia A. Osborne, Audrey N. Beck, and Sara S. McLanahan. 2011. Partnership Instability, School Readiness, and Gender Disparities. Sociology of Education, 84(3): 246–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crawford, C., A. Goodman, E. Greaves, and J. Robert. 2011. Cohabitation, Marriage, Relationship Stability and Child Outcomes: An Update. IFS Commentary C120, Institute for Fiscal Studies: Nutfield Foundation.Google Scholar
  18. Cunha, F., and J.J. Heckman. 2008. Formulating, Identifying, and Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills Formation. Journal of Human Resources, 43(4): 738–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cunha, F., J.J. Heckman, and S.M. Schennach. 2010. Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation. Econometrica, 78(3): 883–931.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dahl, G., and L. Lochner. 2012. The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit. American Economic Review, 102(5): 1927–1956.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Denissen, J.J.A., L. Butalid, L. Penke, and M.A.G. van Aken. 2008. The Effects of Weather on Daily Mood: A Multilevel Approach. Emotion, 8(5): 662–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Diener, E., H.L. Smith, and F. Fujita. 1995. The Personality Structure of Affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(1): 130–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Diener, E., E.M. Suh, R.E. Lucas, and H.L. Smith. 1999. Subjective Well-being: Three Decades of Progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2): 276–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dolan, P., T. Peasgood, and M. White. 2008. Do We Really Know What Makes Us Happy? A Review of the Economic Literature on the Factors Associated with Subjective Well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1): 94–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Easterlin, R.A. 2003. Explaining Happiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(19): 11176–11183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Emery, R.E., and D.K. O’Leary. 1982. Children’s Perceptions of Marital Discord and Behavior Problems of Boys and Girls. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 10(1): 11–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Felfe, C., and A. Hsin. 2009. The Effect of Maternal Work Conditions on Child Development. Working Paper Series 2009–32. Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.Google Scholar
  28. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A., and P. Frijters. 2004. How Important Is Methodology for the Estimates of the Determinants of Happiness? The Economic Journal, 114(497): 641–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Finlay, K., and D. Neumark. 2010. Is Marriage Always Good for Children? Evidence from Families Affected by Incarceration. Journal of Human Resources, 45(4): 1046–1088.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Flouri, E., and A. Buchanan. 2003. The Role of Father Involvement in Children’s Later Mental Health. Journal of Adolescence, 26(1): 63–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fomby, P., and S.J. Bosick. 2013. Family Instability and the Transition to Adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(5): 1266–1287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fomby, P., and C. Osborne. 2010. The Influence of Union Stability and Union Quality on Children’s Aggressive Behavior. Social Science Research, 39(5): 912–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Francesconi, M., S.P. Jenkins, and T. Siedler. 2010. Childhood Family Structure and Schooling Outcomes: Evidence for Germany. Journal of Population Economics, 23(3): 1073–1103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Frey, B.S., and A. Stutzer. 2002. What Can Economics Learn from Happiness Research? Journal of Economic Literature, 40(2): 402–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gardner, J., and A.J. Oswald. 2006. Do Divorcing Couples Become Happier By Breaking Up? Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, 169(2): 319–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ginther, D.K., and R.A. Pollak. 2004. Family Structure and Children’s Educational Outcomes: Blended Families, Stylized Facts, and Descriptive Regressions. Demography, 41(4): 671–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Goodman, R. 2001. Psychometric Properties of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(11): 1337–1345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hanushek, E.A., and L. Woessmann. 2008. The Role of Cognitive Skills in Economic Development. Journal of Economic Literature, 46(3): 607–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hays, R.D., L.S. Morales, and S.P. Reise. 2000. Item Response Theory and Health Outcomes Measurement in the 21st Century. Medical Care, 38(Suppl.II): S28–S42.Google Scholar
  40. Hill, V. 2005. Through the Past Darkly: A Review of the British Ability Scales Second Edition. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 10(2): 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hill, M.S., W.-J.J. Yeung, and G.J. Duncan. 2001. Childhood Family Structure and Young Adult Behaviors. Journal of Population Economics, 14(2): 271–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hoekstra, M.L. 2009. The Effects of Near and Actual Parental Divorce on Student Achievement and Misbehavior. Working Paper No. 305, Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.Google Scholar
  43. Hofferth, S.L. 2006. Residential Father Family Type and Child Well-being: Investment versus Selection. Demography, 43(1): 53–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Keller, M.C., B.L. Fredrickson, O. Ybarra, S. Cote, K. Johnson, J. Mikels, A. Conway, and T. Wager. 2005. A Warm Heart and a Clear Head: The Contingent Effects of Weather on Mood and Cognition. Psychological Science, 16(9): 724–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lang, K., and J.L. Zagorsky. 2001. Does Growing Up with a Parent Absent Really Hurt? The Journal of Human Resources, 36(2): 253–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lykken, D., and A. Tellegen. 1996. Happiness Is a Stochastic Phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7(3): 186–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Magnuson, K., and L.M. Berger. 2009. Family Structure States and Transitions: Associations with Children’s Well-being During Middle Childhood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(3): 575–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McLanahan, S., and G.D. Sandefur. 1994. Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Ministry of Justice. 2013. Story of the Prison Population 1993–2012.
  50. Neidell, M.J. 2000. Early Parental Time Investments in Children’s Human Capital Development: Effects of Time in the First Year on Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Outcomes. Working Paper No.806, UCLA Department of Economics.Google Scholar
  51. Osborne, C., and S. McLanahan. 2007. Partnership Instability and Child Well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(4): 1065–1083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Proto, E., D. Sgroi, and A.J. Oswald. 2011. Are Happiness and Productivity Lower among University Students with Newly-divorced Parents? An experimental Approach. IZA Discussion Paper No. 4755, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).Google Scholar
  53. Saint-Laurent, L., and A.-L. Fournier. 1993. Children with Intellectual Disabilities: Parents’ Satisfaction with School. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin, 21(1): 15–33.Google Scholar
  54. Samejima, F. 1969. Estimation of a Latent Ability Using a Response Pattern of Graded Scores. Psychometrika Monograph Supplement no.17. Richmond, VA: Psychometric Society.Google Scholar
  55. Stagner, M., J. Ehrle, K. Kortenkamp, and J. Reardon-Anderson. 2009. Systematic Review of the Impact of Marriage and Relationship Programs. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  56. Stutzer, A., and B.S. Frey. 2006. Does Marriage Make People Happy, or Do Happy People Get Married? The Journal of Socio-economics, 35(2): 326–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sun, Y., and Y. Li. 2011. Effects of Family Structure Type and Stability on Children’s Academic Performance Trajectories. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(3): 514–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tartari, M. 2015. Divorce and the Cognitive Achievement of Children. International Economic Review, 56(2): 597–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Upshur, C.C. 1991. Mothers’ and Fathers’ Ratings of the Benefits of Early Intervention Services. Journal of Early Intervention, 15(4): 345–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Veenhoven, R. 1997. Progre’ dans la Compre´hension du Bonheur [Progress in Understanding Happiness]. Revue Quebecoise de Psychologie, 18(2): 29–74.Google Scholar
  61. Waite, L.J., and E.L. Lehrer. 2003. The Benefits from Marriage and Religion in the United States: A Comparative Analysis. Population and Development Review, 29(2): 255–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Weiss, Y. 1997. The Formation and Dissolution of Families: Why Marry? Who Marries Whom? And What Happens Upon Divorce? in Handbook of Population and Family Economics. Volume 1. edited by Mark R. Rosenzweig and Oded Stark Amsterdam: Elsevier, 81–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zimmermann, A.C., and R.A. Easterlin. 2006. Happily Ever After? Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Happiness in Germany. Population and Development Review, 32(3): 511–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© EEA 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Illinois State University, Department of EconomicsNormalUSA

Personalised recommendations