The Early Origins of Birth Order Differences in Children's Outcomes and Parental Behavior

The Journal of Human Resources, November 2, 2016

We document birth order differences in cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes and maternal behavior from birth to adolescence using data from the Children of the NLSY79. As early as age one, latter-born children score lower on cognitive assessments than their siblings, and the birth order gap in cognitive assessment increases until the time of school entry and remains statistically significant thereafter. Mothers take more risks during pregnancy and are less likely to breastfeed and to provide cognitive stimulation for latter-born children. Variations in parental behavior can explain most of the differences in cognitive abilities before school entry. Our findings suggest that broad shifts in parental behavior from first to latter-born children is a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labor market outcomes.

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Lehmann JK, Nuevo-Chiquero A, Vidal-Fernandez M