Does parental education influence child educational outcomes? A developmental analysis in a full-population sample and adoptee design

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  • Steven G. Ludeke
  • Gensowski, Miriam
  • Sarah Yde Junge
  • Robert M. Kirkpatrick
  • Oliver P. John
  • Simon C. Andersen
Children’s educational outcomes are strongly correlated with their parents’ educational attainment. This finding
is often attributed to the family environment—assuming, for instance, that parents’ behavior and resources
affect their children’s educational outcomes. However, such inferences of a causal role of the family
environment depend on the largely untested assumption that such relationships do not simply reflect genes
shared between parent and child. We examine this assumption with an adoption design in full-population
cohorts from Danish administrative data. We test whether parental education predicts children’s educational
outcomes in both biological and adopted children, looking at four components of the child’s educational
development: (I) the child’s Conscientiousness during compulsory schooling, (II) academic performance in
those same years, (III) enrollment in academically-challenging high schools, and (IV) graduation success.
Parental education was a substantial predictor of each of these child outcomes in the full population. However,
little intergenerational correlation in education was observed in the absence of genetic similarity between parent
and child—i.e., among adoptees. Further analysis showed that what links adoptive parents’ education did have
with later-occurring components such as educational attainment (IV) and enrollment (III) appeared to be largely
attributable to effects identifiable earlier in development, namely early academic performance (II). The primary
non-genetic mechanisms by which education is transmitted across generations may thus have their effects on
children early in their educational development, even as the consequences of those early effects persist
throughout the child’s educational development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Number of pages50
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - Intergenerational transmission, educational outcomes, full-population studies, adoptees, behavior genetics

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