Mother’s age at birth and children’s educational attainment

Maarten Buis, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Juho Härkönen, Stockholm University

We analyze whether the mother’s age at birth affects children’s educational outcomes in Sweden. Previous studies have shown associations between mother’s age at birth and children’s educational outcomes. Theoretically, there are both biological and social reasons to expect causal effects. Biologically, delayed fertility can increase risks for adverse birth outcomes, which can translate to negative effects on schooling. Socially, it has been argued that older mothers are more mature and financially stable, which should translate into positive effects. As a result of these two conflicting forces, there might be a hump-shaped effect with an “optimal” age of childbearing. Furthermore, given the class-based nature of fertility postponement—higher education being linked to fertility postponement—age at motherhood can shape the intergenerational transmission of inequality. We use Swedish register data to test for these hypotheses. Our outcome variable is the choice of educational path after ninth grade. In usual (cross-sectional) research designs, mother’s age at birth is confounded with cohort effects and birth order. In this study, we focus on a complete cohort of first children born in 1990. We analyze our data using OLS regressions and instrumental variables, using grandmother’s age at first birth and siblings’ fertility as instruments. Our preliminary findings indicate that age at motherhood increases educational attainment in the offspring up until around age 30, after which the effect flattens. We also find that age at fatherhood does not affect children’s educational outcomes after age at motherhood is accounted for.

Presented in Session 57: Thematic session: The Swedish Initiative for research on Microdata in the Social and Medical Sciences (SIMSAM)