It is no secret that parents are the primary influence in children’s lives. Parents or guardian figures guide what kids 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 2018 study published by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics found the following:
- Of students who enrolled in public four-year universities, 45% had parents with college degrees and 26% did not
- One third of first-generation students dropped out of college after three years, compared to 14% of those whose parents did have a degree
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.
As noted, the Inside Higher Ed 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.
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 education a parent has, the more likely the family will be considered “low-income.” The NCCP study found 86% of children with parents who have less than a high school degree live in low-income families, compared with 67% of children with parents who have a high school degree (but no college education) and 31% 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 grapple with depression, low self-esteem and an inability to cope — which they might pass on to their children.
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.