November 6, 2018
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.