Research

Parents’ Education Key to Child’s Security

“Seven Up,” a famous British documentary series, interviewed 7-year-old schoolchildren in 1964 and filmed them every seven years after that.

Over the documentary’s 49-year span, viewers watched the children’s lives take shape. A boy at an upper-crust boarding school goes to college and on to teach math at a prestigious private school. A girl educated in a working-class school in London’s East End is just able to make ends meet as an adult. A young equestrian from a wealthy family raises her own privileged children. A boy in an orphanage becomes a bricklayer.

These personal profiles at the heart of “Seven Up” reverberate in a recent, unrelated, academic study that has reached a similar conclusion: parents’ investment in educating their children is the ticket to financial security as an adult.

The researchers estimated that people with the college-educated fathers earned nearly $400,000 more over their lifetimes (at today’s pound-dollar exchange rate) than the people from less-educated families. They analyzed periodic surveys of 9,436 people in England, Scotland, and Wales between ages 7 and 55.

By age 7, the children of the parents who attended college already had significantly higher test scores than the children whose parents did not go to college. An important explanation for this, the researchers found, is that the more-educated parents invested more time and money in educating their children and teenagers. They read to them more often, took a strong interest in their schoolwork, and sent them to better schools, producing fewer high school dropouts and more college-bound offspring.

The analysis suggests that the difference in the two group’s income levels is tied to differences in their academic ability at various ages and their education levels, which derive, in part, from the fact that a college-educated father puts more energy into his children. A second smaller factor in their offsprings’ higher incomes is that college-educated fathers were two times more likely to transfer wealth to their children, either when the parent is alive or as an inheritance.

Economists have a term for this phenomenon: the “intergenerational transmission of inequalities.” This study demonstrates that these inequities start early and persist.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

4 Responses to Parents’ Education Key to Child’s Security

  1. Ken Pidcock says:

    Not widely appreciated is that this is likely to be exacerbated by our dependence on drawing down portfolios of volatile securities for retirement income. A highly likely outcome of such an exercise is death with substantial assets left to descendants. When it comes to wealth concentration, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  2. Mike says:

    It is truly unfortunate that so very few children are able to break out of the predisposition they are born into. I believe it is that we are creatures of our surroundings, we become what we know and experience. Remember ‘Trading Places’ with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd?

    Does anyone really believe that legalizing cannabis will help future societal disparity?

    • Mike Mas. says:

      Mike, you present a very interesting juxtaposition here. I live in southern NJ, and our two largest nearby cities; Camden NJ and Philadelphia PA, are among the poorest in America. For many, their only option is drug dealing, leading to turf wars, gang shootings, and the high crime and death rates that accompany them.

      Alcohol continues to be legal in spite of causing health issues, but generates tax revenue, and employment. Is cannabis really that different? Nobody has ever died of a pot overdose.

      So, yes, I suggest we take it out of the hands of criminals by legalizing it. Wife and I vacationed in Colorado this past summer, where it is legal, and found the dispensaries to be neat and professional, and the experience to be highly pleasurable. (Pun intended.)

  3. Penny says:

    I am skeptical as I regard maternal education as far more important; if we take wealthy households and look at children’s educational attainment, e.g. holding wealth constant, we find differences driven by mother’s education. Trump is an excellent example of a failure as a student in spite of being given private schooling etc. If we take poor households, again holding material resources constant, we again find the driver is maternal education. Time to stop ignoring the role of women in the success of their children.

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