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Correlation Between Parents' Education Level and Children's Success

It is no secret that parents are the primary influence in their children's lives, guiding what they eat, where they live and even what they wear. But parents influence their children in a far more important way: Research shows that parents' education level has a significant impact on their children's success.

One reason for this phenomenon is that parents who have gone to college or graduate school tend to place a high value on educational attainment. A 2014 College Board/National Journal survey exploring Americans' educational choices found the following:

  • 62 percent of people with two college graduates as parents said that young people today need a four-year degree to succeed, compared with only 46 percent of those whose parents hold no college degrees.
  • 80 percent of those raised by two graduates said their parents encouraged them to attend a four-year school, compared with 29 percent of those raised in families without a degree.
  • More than one-third of those raised in no-degree families said they were encouraged to take a job or enter the military instead of going to school.

What the Research Shows

The findings suggest that people whose parents did not hold a degree who entered the workforce straight out of high school were more likely to believe that a college degree was not worth the cost or that they did not need further education to pursue their desired career.

Placing a high value on educational attainment can manifest itself in other ways. A growing body of research indicates that a child whose parents model achievement-oriented behaviors (for example, obtaining advanced degrees, reading often and encouraging a solid work ethic) and provide achievement-oriented opportunities (such as trips to the library and after-school enrichment programs) tend to believe that achievement is to be valued and pursued. In turn, this belief should lead to the pursuit of higher learning and successful careers.

In fact, the National Journal study found students from no-degree families who did go to college directly after high school had a difficult time finishing school, a fact that may be attributed to the lack of an education role model. Less than 60 percent of students in no-degree families completed their degree, compared with 70 percent of students in one- and two-degree families.

Economic Effects

There is also a correlation between parents' education level and families' income level. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), the less educated a parent is, the more likely the family will be low-income. The NCCP study found 86 percent of children with parents who have less than a high school degree live in low-income families, compared with 67 percent of children with parents who have a high school degree (but no college education) and 31 percent of children with at least one parent who has some college education.

Another study found low socioeconomic status, in turn, can affect family interactions and lead to behavior problems that can impact children's academic and intellectual development. Additionally, parents who struggle financially tend to have children who are more pessimistic about their education and job prospects.

More Education Options Than Ever

Fortunately, online degree programs make it easier than ever for parents to further their education, offering the flexibility and convenience necessary to keep working full time while completing classes on their own schedule. The research is clear: Parents who are more highly educated give their children the benefit of educational role models and economic stability that will help them go on to complete more education and land fulfilling careers.

Learn more about Lamar University's Bachelor of General Studies online.


The Atlantic: Are College Degrees Inherited?

National Center for Children in Poverty: Basic Facts About Low-Income Children

NCBI: Long-term Effects of Parents' Education on Children's Educational and Occupational Success: Mediation by Family Interactions, Child Aggression, and Teenage Aspirations

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