Women’s education, fertility and children’ health during a gender equalization process: Evidence from a child labor reform in Spain

Open Access       

Authors: Cristina Bellés-Obrero, Antonio Cabrales, Sergi Jiménez-Martín and Judit Vall-Castello

European Economic Review, Vol. 154, May, 2023

We study the effect of women’s education on fertility and children’s health during a period of gender equalization and women’s greater access to economic opportunities. In 1980, Spain raised the minimum working age from 14 to 16, while the compulsory education age remained at 14. This reform changed the within-cohort incentives to remain in the educational system. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that the reform delayed fertility but did not impact the completed fertility of affected women. We also show that the reform was detrimental to the health of the children of affected mothers at delivery. We document two channels for this adverse effect: the postponement in the entrance of motherhood and the deterioration of mothers’ health habits (such as smoking and drinking). However, in the medium run, these more educated mothers reverse the adverse health shocks at birth through maternal vigilance and investment in their children’s health habits.