Women's education, marriage, and fertility outcomes: Evidence from Thailand's Compulsory Schooling Law

Pallavi Panda

Associate professor of economics Pallavi Panda (SUNY Geneseo/Matt Burkhartt)


Author (Has Faculty Page)


Journal/Publication and Year

Economics of Education Review (2023)


This paper investigates the causal impact of the extension of compulsory education from 6 to 9 years on females’ education, marriage, and fertility outcomes in Thailand. The paper's coauthor is Pasita Chaijaroen, Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology, Wangchan Valley, Rayong, Thailand.


Increased education affects market and non-market outcomes. This paper investigates the causal impact of the extension of compulsory education from 6 to 9 years on females’ education, marriage, and fertility outcomes in Thailand. Using data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and a donut-hole Regression Discontinuity design, we show that the new law increases lower secondary school completion in girls, leading to decreased probabilities of giving birth in the school-age years (14–17 years). The policy primarily affects the marginal child leading to the postponement of the timing of their fertility to after-school years. We also document heterogeneity and show that the fertility effects are stronger for Muslim women. The policy leads to a consistent drop in the probability of marriage and cumulative births for Muslim women, which sustain beyond the completion of schooling years. The results hold with alternative empirical model specifications and falsification tests.

Main research questions:

  1. Does compulsory schooling law, targeting middle school, increase girls' education in Thailand?
  2. How does the policy affect fertility and marriage patterns for girls?
  3. What do we observe in terms of fertility dynamics and fertility timing for women?
  4. Does the law affect women differentially based on the place of residence and religion?

What the research builds on:

Education, especially female education, has been regarded as the key to positive ripple effects on economic and social outcomes. Given the widespread impact that education has on the economy and individual well-being, many developing countries have invested in school construction programs, conditional cash transfers, and compulsory schooling laws to give their population greater access and push to achieve more education (Burde & Linden, 2013; Cui et al., 2019; Schultz, 2004). Female education, especially, is associated with lower fertility and lower child mortality, increasing women's labor supply, increasing bargaining power in the households, changing marriage market returns, and increases in children's schooling (Attanasio & Kaufmann, 2017; Black et al., 2008; Keats, 2018; Lam & Duryea, 1999; McCrary & Royer, 2011; Osili & Long, 2008). This paper contributes to this vast literature and studies the causal impact of a compulsory schooling law on female education and the corresponding changes in marriage and fertility outcomes in Thailand. Since the relationship between schooling, fertility, and marriage varies by women's educational level and stages of country's development, the question warrants an empirical investigation in different developing country settings (Kim, 2016).

What this research adds to the discussion?

Heath and Jayachandran (2017) argue that the effects over the life course, such as total births, or marital outcomes that depend on general equilibrium adjustments, including assortative mating and marriage markets, are less clearly established and are context-dependent. Using an exogenous variation in education, we are able to develop a causal estimate of the compulsory schooling law on marriage and fertility outcomes in Thailand and add to the rich literature on the impact of compulsory schooling laws on human capital formation and the impact on marriage and fertility. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to use the 2003 extension of compulsory schooling law affecting the lower secondary education to study the causal impact of compulsory schooling on women outcomes in these 14 provinces of Thailand. This direct impact of the reform on secondary students brings a contemporaneous change in teen fertility, distinct from the earlier reform that only affected primary education. Moreover, our dataset allows us to create a woman-age panel to explore fertility dynamics and we document the impact on fertility timing of women affected by the new education law. This dynamic has not been analyzed in the context of Thailand's compulsory schooling law.

Novel Methodology:

We use data from the 14-province dataset in the Thai 2015-2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).We convert the original data into a women-age panel format using information on marriage and birth timings. This panel data format allows us to compare marriage and fertility outcomes between the treated and control groups at each particular age up to 20 years old. We use a donut-hole regression discontinuity (RD) design (Almond & Doyle, 2011; Barreca et al., 2011; Card & Giuliano, 2014; Fukushima et al., 2016; Kırdar et al., 2018) to estimate the effects of the increase in compulsory schooling on education, marital, and fertility outcomes. Following various works on changes in compulsory education, we exploit the discontinuity in the birth date (Ali & Gurmu, 2018; Black et al., 2008; Erten & Keskin, 2018).
In our main specifications, we choose 60 months around the threshold as an estimating window and 12 months on each side of the threshold as the donut hole exclusion, due to technical reasons. While our choices of polynomials and bandwidths are chosen from a theoretical and technical perspective, they are consistent with the data-driven choices derived from Placebo Zone Selection Models (PZMS) and IK/CCT procedures. We find that:
  1. The compulsory schooling law has a statistically significant positive impact on increasing the lower secondary education for females as well as high school completion. Therefore, even though the compulsory schooling law was directed towards lower secondary education, we see spillover effects on school attendance and completion beyond the lower secondary level.
  2. The compulsory education law increases vocational education in higher secondary school between 1.9 and 4.3 percentage points. This hints towards affecting the marginal girl child—one who may have dropped out of school but due to the policy remained in the school and went on to choose the vocational track to improve her chances in the labor market.
  3. There is no significant impact of the policy on increasing male education. In Thailand, males have higher dropout rates due to factors such as problems in school, economic hardships leading to working for the family, parent's migration, etc. We observe higher dropout rates for males in our sample as well. Moreover, the policy mostly works in nudging parents to enroll their children in school but is not effective in monitoring and reducing dropout rates. This could explain the ineffectiveness of the policy in increasing male education.
  4. By constructing a women-age panel, we are able to estimate the impact on these outcomes at each age group between the treated and control groups. We document a decrease in probability of ever giving birth, births at each age, and cumulative births during school years (i.e., until 17 years). The probability of ever giving birth decreases with the largest drops around 4–5 percentage points at 14 and 15 years. Fertility then increases after school years, and it is significantly higher when the women reach 20 years.
  5. Compulsory schooling is effective in postponing fertility from age 14–17 years to 18–20 years. This posits as a direct effect of being in school, known in the literature as “incarceration effect.” The woman delays her fertility as young motherhood during schooling can impose a significant time and opportunity cost.
  6. We document similar overall effects on education for both Muslim and non-Muslim population, but the corresponding effects on marriage and fertility are more prominent for Muslim young women. The persistent effects on Muslim women can be seen as a function of the type of education acquired by this group. There is suggestive evidence that Muslim women undertake college education more than their counterparts (and not an increase in vocational education) indicating a sustained effect on their educational and long-term human capital outcomes.

Implications for society:

This study adds to the literature showing the importance of compulsory schooling laws in changing the outcomes for women in a developing country context. The analysis provides evidence on important measures such as marriage and childbearing and details the possible mechanisms in observing these effects. Given the links between marriage and delayed childbearing on various aspects of the society including family structure, child health, poverty, women's labor force participation, gender wage gap, and other economic outcomes, the compulsory schooling law would have important implications on the economic welfare of women in these provinces in Thailand.

Implications for policy:

As far as education can bring female empowerment, and in conjunction with robust labor market opportunities, increasing female education acts as a factor in changing social norms and decreasing fertility. These results go on to illustrate the importance of the longer-term effect of education in a developing country and highlights the varied impacts in certain socioeconomic groups. This is important from development policy making perspective.



Chaijaroen, P. & Panda, P. (2023) Women's education, marriage, and fertility outcomes: Evidence from Thailand's compulsory schooling law. Economics of Education Review, Vol. 96, 102440.