Parents’ education plays key role in performance of their children

Pedro Carneiro, Costas Meghir, Matthias Parey , Mon, 10/08/2007



In the last 50 years, there has been a striking increase in inequality in children’s home environments across families where mothers have different levels of education. Given that the tendency is rooted in the experience of each family, it is difficult for the welfare system to import change and direct interventions require the invasion of family autonomy and privacy. The authors of CEPR DP6505 assess an alternative potential policy, which targets future parents while still in their youth by affecting their education before they start forming a family. Their findings suggest that parental education plays a substantial role in transmitting inequality in home environments and child outcomes, which supports the view that educational policy can make a difference.

The analysis is based on matched data From the female participants of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and their children, that allows estimation of the impact of maternal education not only on parental characteristics like employment, income, marital status, spouse’s education, age at first birth, but also on several aspects of parental practices. The results show that a mother’s education influences her child’s performance in both maths and reading at ages 7-8. For example, an additional year of mother’s schooling increases the child’s test score by about 0.1 of a standard deviation and reduces the incidence of behavioural problems. More educated mothers delay childbearing, are more likely to be married and have more educated spouses and higher family incomes. They invest more in their children and, even though they work longer hours, there is no evidence this leads to reduced quality time spent with children.

The findings also present a rough calculation that the change in children’s earnings due to an additional year of parental education is about 0.4%, accounting for a substantial part of the intergenerational inequality in earnings. As many policy programmes are struggling to improve outcomes for the poor children, it is important to understand the long-term effectiveness – increasing mothers schooling is likely to be important not only for the mothers now but also for their future children.

DP6505 Maternal Education, Home Environments and the Development of Children and Adolescents

Journalists are entitled to free DP downloads on request; please contact [email protected]. To learn more about subscribing to CEPR's Discussion Paper Series, please visit the CEPR website.


Topics:  Education Labour markets

Tags:  education, Child Development, Intergenerational Mobility, family economics


CEPR Policy Research