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A common finding across studies of the association between family context and wellbeing is a positive correlation between marriage and a host of outcomes related to union quality and stability, mental and physical health, job prospects and economic wellbeing for spouses and their children. The magnitude of the marriage premium and whether it is purely driven by selection remains elusive. We situate our study in Sweden, a context where the legal and social value of marriage is not greatly differentiated from long-term cohabitation. We make use of a unique policy change that induced a three-fold increase in marriage rates in November and December 1989. Using administrative register data, we compare this marriage cohort with prior marriage cohorts, assessing whether selectivity into marriage helps explain union stability, any increased propensity of individuals to make couple-specific investments with respect to childbearing, and the reduced mortality typically associated with the marital status. We find evidence that union stability and mortality advantages of married couples may, to a large extent, be driven by the selectivity of couples that choose to marry. The evidence for childbearing is more mixed, largely reflecting situations where childbearing decisions take precedence over those related to marriage formation. Our study highlights that the possibilities for any beneficial impact of policies aiming at promoting marriage may be very limited.
Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) via the Linnaeus Center for Social Policy and Family Dynamics in Europe (SPaDE; grant registration number 349-2007-8701), the Swedish Initiative for Research on Microdata in the Social and Medical Sciences (SIMSAM; grant 340-2013-5164), and the European Research Council (grant ERC-StG-2011-263794)