Sibling Spillovers: Having an Academically Successful Older Sibling May be More Important for Children in Disadvantaged Families


PSTC Seminar Room, Mencoff Hall 205

Emma Zang, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Yale University

This paper examines causal sibling spillover effects among students from different family backgrounds in elementary and middle school. Family backgrounds are captured by race, household structure, mothers’ educational attainments, and school poverty. Exploiting discontinuities in school starting age created by North Carolina school entry laws, we adopt a quasi-experimental approach and compare test scores of public school students whose older siblings were born shortly before and after the school entry cutoff date. We find that individuals whose older siblings were born shortly after the school entry cutoff date have significantly higher scores in middle school, and that this positive spillover effect is moderated by family background. We estimate that these spillover effects account for more than one-third of observed statistical associations in test scores between siblings, and the magnitude is much larger for families in which the mother is a high-school dropout, black, single, or living in a low-income district. Our results suggest that educational spillover effects from older to younger siblings lead to greater divergence in academic outcomes between families.  

Emma Zang is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. in Public Policy in 2019 and MA in Economics in 2017, both from Duke University. As a demographer, her research interests lie at the intersection of health, family, and inequality. Her work aims to improve the understanding of 1) how early-life conditions affect later-life health outcomes; 2) social stratification and health; 3) spillover effects within the household exploiting policy changes. She is also interested in developing and evaluating statistical methods to model trajectories and life transitions in order to better understand how demographic and socioeconomic inequalities shape the health and well-being of individuals from life course perspectives. Her work has appeared in journals such as the American Journal of Sociology, Demography, Journal of Marriage and Family, International Journal of Epidemiology, and JAMA Internal Medicine. Her research has been widely covered by major media outlets in the United States, China, South Korea, India, and Singapore.

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