Growing up in a blended family or a step family. What is the impact on education?

Donna K. Ginther, University of Kansas
Marianne Sundström, Swedish Institute for Social Research

This paper studies the incidence and the long-term impact of growing up in a blended family or a step family on children’s educational outcomes in Sweden. We use a random sample of almost 36,000 children born in Sweden from 1964 to 1965 who have been matched to all their siblings born in 1960-1970, for a total sample size of over 95,000 children. Childhood family and siblings structure is inferred by tracing the relationship between biological parents, co-resident and non-resident siblings using the bidecennial censuses combined with the Swedish multigenerational register. These children are followed into adulthood and the impact of family and sibling structure on their educational outcomes examined. The cross-section results indicate that growing up with half siblings is negatively correlated with educational attainment. Children who live in traditional nuclear families get more schooling than those in other family structures, while children who live with a single parent get the least. To assess causality we estimate sibling-difference models and our preliminary findings show that living with a single parent or a stepparent have negative effects on educational attainment, as compared to living with both biological parents. In line with this, joint children in blended families have better educational outcomes than their half siblings and this difference is larger in stepfather families than in stepmother families. One possible explanation for this interesting finding is that the father in the blended family does not share his income equally between his ‘own’ children and his step children.

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Presented in Session 19: Step families