The Long Term Impact of Adolescent Risky Behaviors and Family Environment. 4. The Relationship of Parents' Education (SES) to Adult Outcomes

08/01/2001

Parents' socioeconomic status (SES) can play a major role in a variety of ways. Higher income, higher education, and increased access to resources allow parents to invest more in their children's future. They have more access to information about education, jobs, and other opportunities. Furthermore, higher SES parents likely have better information and better access to means of preventing negative consequences such as counseling, drug rehabilitation programs, or good lawyers.

Socioeconomic status is a combination of various attributes including education, occupation, and income. We proxy for SES by using parents' education. While data limitations motivate our choice of education as the variable to study, education is highly correlated with the other attributes and should proxy well for general SES. It should be recognized, though, that our results are specific to parents' education. Had measures of other dimensions of SES been available, we might have obtained different results.

The relationship between parents' education and adult outcomes is fuzzy, but basically follows expected patterns. Mothers' and fathers' education has similar effects for most outcomes, but contradictory for some. They are particularly contradictory for the health outcomes. Higher levels of mother's education are associated with lower likelihood of adult alcohol problems (Figure 7a). For example, those with college graduate mothers are only 69 percent as likely to have an adult alcohol abuse or dependence problem compared with those whose mothers are high school dropouts. Conversely, higher levels of fathers' education are actually associated with greater likelihood of an adult alcohol problem (Figure 7b). For example those with college graduate fathers are 33 percent more likely to have an alcohol abuse or dependence problem compared with those whose fathers are high school dropouts.

Figure 7a

Figure 7a

Figure 7b

Figure 7b

While mothers' education has a negative relationship with adult alcohol abuse or dependence, it has a somewhat positive relationship with the likelihood of adult drug usage. Fathers' education has no relationship with adult drug usage. Conversely, while no relationship exists between mother's education and the likelihood of going to jail, higher levels of fathers' education are associated with a lower probability of spending time in jail.

The two parents' education levels have more similar associations in the economic domain. More education for either parent is generally associated with better economic outcomes, though there are some minor inconsistencies. It is clear that those with mothers who are high school dropouts nearly always fare worst and those with college graduate mothers typically fare best. For example, adolescents with mothers who are high school graduates are 71 percent as likely to be in poverty between ages 25-29 (Figure 8) compared to those whose mothers are high school dropouts; those with mothers who are college graduates are only 55 percent as likely. For fathers, whenever significance is achieved, there is a positive association between fathers' education and the economic outcome.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Few associations between either parent's education and the marriage/fertility outcomes achieve statistical significance. One notable exception shows children of college graduate mothers are less likely to be never married with children at age 33. Although generally not statistically significant, we see a consistent relationship between higher levels of parents' education and delayed childbearing. Although children of more educated parents are no less likely to have married by age 33, they are more likely to be never married without children. Children of more educated mothers show higher rates of being married without children, though this relationship does not show up for fathers' education. Individuals with more education typically show rates of later marriage and childbearing. Since there is a positive correlation between an individual's education and his/her parents' education, we are capturing a similar relationship.

Section Summary

  • Higher levels of mothers' education are associated with fewer adult alcohol disorders and better economic outcomes, but more adult drug usage. There is little relationship with either incarceration or adult family formation.
  • Higher levels of fathers' education are associated with good economic and incarceration outcomes, but more adult alcohol disorders. There is little relationship between fathers' education and adult drug use or family formation.