Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to provide evidence on the effect of child health on marital stability and family structure in an economic framework. We use the 1988 National Health Interview Survey’s Child Health Supplement, with a sample of about 9,000 families, to test whether having an unhealthy child decreases the mother’s chance of being married and whether it increases her chance of living in an extended family. Using two different measures of child health, we find that having an unhealthy child decreases the mother’s likelihood of being married. Our results imply that children in poor health are more likely to face obstacles beyond their illness because they also are more likely to suffer the consequences of poverty and the poor schooling outcomes that result from being raised in a female-headed household. The only mitigating factor is that unhealthy white children are more likely than their healthy counterparts to be living in an extended family.

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