A mother’s education level has a long-lasting effect on her children. We just celebrated Mother’s Day, recognizing the long list of things mothers do for us – everything from feeding us and caring for us when we are sick, to protecting us from monsters in the closet and cheering us on at our sports events. Whatever else a mom does for her child, achieving a higher level of education can be an accomplishment that has a profound impact.
The Foundation for Child Development report Mother’s Education and Children’s Outcomes presents economic, health and other hard statistics that clearly demonstrate how children benefit from a higher level of mother’s education. While both parents’ education level impacts a family, the study compared only the mother’s education level and the effects on children for one reason: 96 percent of children live with mothers – either in a home with two parents or a single-parent household with a mother only. The study showed that children with a college-educated mother had economic, academic and health advantages over children whose mothers did not have a high level of education.
Families with a college-educated mother have higher median incomes, and are far more likely to have parents with secure employment than those with lower education levels. Financial stability and success create an environment that allows children more opportunities for academic success. Children with college-educated mothers show higher levels of reading and math proficiency in eighth grade than children with less-educated parents. Proficiency at these levels is a good predictor of how well children will learn and perform academically in high school or beyond when work is more challenging. And, children with college-educated mothers generally have higher birth weights and are healthier. This gives them an advantage for academic performance. Low birth weights can mean neurodevelopmental disabilities that can affect learning, and children’s health disorders can impair their ability to learn early.
A mother’s education level impacts her child’s life beyond the hard facts of economics, academics and health. This impact goes into three broad categories according to a paper in the Journal of Marriage and Family: Human, social and cultural capital.
Human capital deals with how a mother’s education level impacts the way she interacts with her child. In early childhood this interaction can affect vocabulary and language skills. Some scholars estimate that children with educated professional parents hear 30 million more words by age four than children with parents that are on welfare. It isn’t just the number of words that is important. The quality of the words matters. Young children with better educated parents generally hear a larger, richer vocabulary. A larger vocabulary early in life is tied to better academic achievement later in life.
A mother’s level of education is also important in later childhood. Mothers with a college education are more likely to expose their children to activities that stimulate their cognitive development. They are also better able to help their children do homework and study for test.
Mothers with a higher level of education build cultural capital for their children when they expose them museums, give them music lessons or introduce them to other fine arts. College educated mothers also create social capital for their children because they are more likely to have family, friends and co-workers that also have a higher level of education. In this environment will live with an expectation of going to college and acquiring an education.
A high mother’s education level clearly benefits children. And children whose mothers are striving to complete their education also benefit.
First, as mothers complete courses, gain new skills and secure better jobs, their income will increase. “Children of parents who experience substantial income gains progress further in school,” according to the American Sociological Association (ASA). This may be because parents can move to areas with better schools or find academic materials and resources such as tutors for their children.
Second, children whose mothers complete their education can gain social and cultural capital as their mothers can expose them to new experiences. They gain confidence which will benefit them in academic settings.
Having a mother that is a positive role model is a big benefit for children with mothers who decide to complete their education as a nontraditional student. “Witnessing a parent’s prioritization of education could underscore spoken messages urging educational effort,” according to the ASA. “A parent’s nontraditional path may encourage persistence in the face of adversity, encouraging children to make multiple attempts at college-going despite setbacks.”
Mothers who seek tuition assistance and academic counseling show their children it is important to set and pursue a goal. Even if it is difficult to go to school as a working parent, the lessons that are learned are valuable. As mothers use their employer tuition benefits and seek out other resources to help achieve their goal, their children learn to find solutions to obstacles. As mothers progress through their education toward the end goal, both they and their children reap the benefits.
Adrienne Way is the CEO and owner of Edcor.
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