Are there effects of mothers' post-16 education on the next generation? Effects on children's development and mothers' parenting
(2006) Leon Feinstein and Kathryn Duckworth
Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report No.19
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There is an extensive body of research which shows that the children of parents with longer participation in education do better in standard tests of school attainment than those whose parents have had less education. One of the mechanisms put forward for explaining the intergenerational transmission of educational success is parenting.
This report adds to a growing body of research from the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning on the inter-generational transmission of educational success and issues of parenting skills, behaviours and attitudes. The report seeks to establish whether the strong correlation between mothers' participation in education and both her child's development and her parenting results from a primarily causal relationship, or from selection effects.
Using longitudinal data spanning three generations, we find that while mothers' participation in post-compulsory education has some small positive causal effects, much of the apparent relationship between a mother's post-16 educational participation and measures of her children's cognitive ability and her parenting skills is driven by the selection bias – it is largely other factors, such as her aspirations, motivation and prior achievement, which determine her child's attainment and affect her decision to stay on in education.
Much of the developmental literature tends towards a causal interpretation of the relationship between parents' education and the development and ability of their children. However, the results of this report suggest that such assumptions should be made with considerable caution.
Our findings suggest that simply extending the length of time that women spend in education may do little to directly affect the educational attainment of their children. Rather, it is the ability and aspirations of women which inform their participation in post-16 education, their parenting ability and the attainment of their children. It may be through inter-generational continuities in factors such as these that inequalities in educational success are transmitted through the generations. This suggests that supporting children in learning through early and continued investment in quality education and developmental opportunities is more important in addressing social immobility than simply extending the average length of participation, important though that may be.
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