New study: children’s educational outcomes are closely linked to their mother’s

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

Well, I guess everyone who has read my courting questions knows that as a condition of entering into a marriage plan with me, I ask that the woman go on to graduate school and also work for a few years. I ask this because she is going to be in charge of the children all day, at least until we put them into private school, (if we do that), or longer if we go with homeschooling all the way. That means not only does she have to be good at math, science and everything else important, but she also has to know how to apply to college, how to apply to grad school, and how to get a job and survive in the workplace.

The mother of the children is the chief of staff of the home, and she has a more important job than the man. Raising the children is – truly – more important to God than the nature and pay of the man’s work. The man has to go to work to provide, but that is not normally going to have the impact for God that raising the next Alliance Defending Freedom attorney will have. I intend for my marriage to be (in part) an engine for the manufacture of effective, influential Christian scholars and/or professionals, and that means I expect the VP of the parenting division to be excellent. 

So… is there any more reason to asking marriage candidates to go to graduate school and to work?

Yes, and a new study reported in Family Studies explains why:

A new paper by Jessica F. Harding, Pamela A. Morris, and Diane Hughes in the Journal of Marriage and Family proposes studying the ways in which mothers’ education affects children’s outcomes through a three-part framework: mothers’ human capital, cultural capital, and social capital.

[…]In the realm of parenting, a college degree (or the knowledge and skills it stands for) seems to make people interact with their kids differently. Take the famous thirty-million word gap, for example: some scholars estimate that children of parents on welfare hear 30 million fewer words by the age of four than the children of professional parents.

The gap is not only about quantity, but quality: Better educated parents also use a wider vocabulary, and they dole out affirmations (not just complimenting kids, but repeating and building on what they say) more generously than less educated parents. Learning lots of words early in life is tied to better academic outcomes down the road, so parents’ early conversations with kids have long-lasting implications.

Mothers’ education also matters later in childhood: College-educated mothers are “able to more appropriately tailor cognitively stimulating activities to their children’s developmental level,” the researchers document, and they are more equipped to help kids do homework and study for tests.

[…]Cultural capital revolves around “preferences and behaviors that, although not inherently better than others, are relevant for educational success because they are sanctioned in a particular society’s educational settings.” Think visiting museums and taking music lessons—the sort of activities that upper-middle class parents emphasize. Participating in such activities “has been associated with teacher-reported academic outcomes for children and adolescents in a number of studies that have adjusted for other factors,” and it bolsters high school students’ college applications.

Cultural capital also helps kids to navigate the education system successfully: more educated mothers are more comfortable with schools, so they are more likely to advocate for their kids there (say, requesting that their child be assigned a certain well-regarded teacher) and to teach their kids how to advocate successfully for themselves (for instance, telling a child how to request the opportunity to re-take a failed test).

[…]Social capital encompasses “interactions that take place between mothers and people in their social networks or between people in mothers’ social networks and children.” It’s about mothers’ relationships to and connections with other people (whereas cultural capital has to do with mothers’ “abilities to use behaviors that aid in navigating . . . social and institutional relationships”). College-educated mothers are more likely to be part of social networks containing “knowledge, skills, and resources that are relevant to children’s academic success,” the researchers propose. For instance, their relatives, colleagues, and friends are likely to also have college degrees, meaning mothers can easily pick up tips about the best schools or gain advice about the college application process. Plus, their children will be surrounded by highly educated role models; in their circles, graduating from college will be an expectation, not an aspiration.

Everything I do in relationships is grounded in studies like this one. I work backwards from what God wants, to what the challenges in the society are, to what the children need, to what each spouse does in the marriage for each other and for the kids, to how each spouse prepares for marriage roles. Then, I look at the studies to find out the best way to achieve the goals. It’s all very serious – no getting drunk, hooking up, or partying.

I was preparing to be a husband and father from the time I started high school. Choosing STEM courses, passing on fluff courses. I hated doing hard things that made me look stupid, but I had to do them. We – me and my future wife and kids – would need the money. Same thing with chastity – I wanted my wife to have assurances that I could be faithful, so I never had sex outside of marriage (never went near the line). And on and on.

Marriage-minded women ought to be doing the same. Work your chastity, yes. But also study hard things, get hard jobs, and study economics, politics, apologetics and everything else a family will need. Find out what children are like. Find out how to cook. Find out how to encourage a man. Find out how to homeschool. Find out how to argue logically. Your successful marriage starts the day you turn your emotions off, and turn on your mind.

Marriage is hard work. You can’t just go crazy in your teens, 20s and 30s and then jump off at the last second into the perfect marriage. You have to build up to it – think where you want to go, and take steps every day that will get you there. It’s much better to learn about how marriage and parenting works from good books, good studies and the experience of wise, older people with long-lasting marriages. Don’t follow the culture, it’s crap.

4 thoughts on “New study: children’s educational outcomes are closely linked to their mother’s”

  1. Well, this is interesting. In the sense that it is hard work to earn a graduate degree, this seems quite reasonable. But, what about all of the godly moms out there from times past that raised up the guys who got us to the moon? (Substitute any other accomplishment that we will never repeat because of the moral cesspool we are living in.) Most of those women did not have degrees, but did a GREAT job of raising their kids to be top notch producers – or else!

    One fact I am familiar with: a college degree makes no difference to a homeschooling mom in terms of her children’s academic accomplishments.

    “Further, Dr. Ray found no significant statistical differences in academic achievement between those students taught by parents with less formal education and those students taught by parents with higher formal education.” Source: http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000010/200410250.asp

    Now, that particular conclusion was taken from limited data. The full data is given in the link. It should also be noted that homeschoolers score in the 80th percentile on average (versus 50th percentile for government school students), so it could be that the main source of statistical variation is just between the schooling environment and the fact that this environment swamps any statistical variation between the education level of the mom. So, it does NOT invalidate what you are saying, but does go to show that a mom with a high school degree who homeschools can produce all of the doctors, lawyers, and engineers she wants.

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      1. Not disagreeing at all. Plus, it’s my understanding that a marriage made up of husband and wife who have similar educational accomplishments is more solid than one with a wide disparity. Not sure where I read it, but that argues for your point.

        I’m merely pointing out one particular in the overall scheme of things: that if your wife homeschools, don’t be surprised if the moms with high school degrees put out productive children that match yours. I think that goes to love and nurturing and discipline, no Master’s required.

        On the other hand, the future goals of children from a less educated family and a more educated one may be disparate. But, one thing we do know and will agree on: homeschool families take their children’s education VERY seriously. :-)

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