Topics: Birth order, Family, Higher education Pages: 32 (15569 words) Published: March 22, 2015
J Popul Econ (2009) 22:367–397
DOI 10.1007/s00148-007-0181-4

Birth order matters: the effect of family size and birth
order on educational attainment
Alison L. Booth & Hiau Joo Kee

Received: 13 January 2006 / Accepted: 9 November 2007 /
Published online: 11 April 2008
# Springer-Verlag 2007

Abstract Using the British Household Panel Survey, we investigate if family size and birth order affect children’s subsequent educational attainment. Theory suggests a tradeoff between child quantity and “quality” and that siblings are unlikely to receive equal shares of parental resources devoted to children’s education. We construct a new birth order index that effectively purges family size from birth order and use this to test if siblings are assigned equal shares in the family’s educational resources. We find that the shares are decreasing with birth order. Ceteris paribus, children from larger families have less education, and the family size effect does not vanish when we control for birth order. These findings are robust to numerous specification checks.

Keywords Family size . Birth order . Education
JEL Classification I2 . J1

1 Introduction
The promotion of educational attainment is an important priority of policy makers. The economics of the family suggests that children’s educational achievement is related to

Responsible editor: Alessandro Cigno
A. L. Booth
Essex University, Colchester, UK
A. L. Booth (*)
Economics Program, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia
e-mail: Alison.booth@anu.edu.au
H. J. Kee
Econtech Pty Ltd., PO Box 4129, Kingston ACT 2604, Australia e-mail: kee@econtech.com.au


A.L. Booth, H.J. Kee

family size and that there is a trade-off between child quantity and “quality” (Becker 1960; Becker and Lewis 1973) where child ‘quality’ is proxied by educational outcomes. A number of arguments also suggest that siblings are unlikely to receive equal shares of the resources devoted by parents to their children’s education. There are various hypotheses in the literature about the impact of birth order. Those predicting negative effects relate to greater parental time endowments for lower birth order children, greater devolvement of responsibility to lower birth order children and the simple fact that mothers are older when they have higher than lower birth order children. Those hypotheses predicting positive effects of birth order on education are: the growth of family income over the life cycle; the possibility that older siblings may be encouraged to leave school early to assist in providing resources for the younger members of the family; parental child-raising experience that might advantage younger siblings; and finally, the possibility that younger children may benefit from time inputs both from parents and older siblings. A challenge in estimation of birth order and family size effects is that birth order relates to family size. The first born in any family always has a higher probability of being in a small family than those children born later in the birth order. Studies estimating separate birth order and family size effects typically include dummy variables for birth order and a separate continuous variable for family size. But this does not appropriately purge the family size effect from the birth order effect. In this paper, we put forward a simple specification of a birth order index that is orthogonal to family size and which we utilise in our estimation. An additional advantage of this method is its parsimony.

We use unique retrospective family background data from wave 13 of the British Household Panel Survey to explore the degree to which family size and birth order affect a child’s subsequent educational attainment. We construct a test of whether or not siblings are assigned equal shares in the family’s educational resources. We show that they are not and that the shares...

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