A new study from Ohio State University reports that the time parents spend with their children has a powerful effect on their educational achievement. The experts discovered that a child’s academic success is much more heavily influenced by the educational attainment of the parent they live with compared to that of a parent who died or left the home.
The researchers also found that the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.
“In the ongoing debate over what helps children succeed academically, we show that genetics is not the only major factor,” said study co-author Professor Bruce Weinberg. “It is also about the time that parents spend with their children.”
The researchers examined the academic outcomes for more than 22,000 Israeli children who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 children whose parents divorced, and more than 600,000 Israeli children who did not experience the loss of a parent in the home.
The investigation was focused on whether the children passed the “matriculation exam,” a college entry exam that is passed by about 57 percent of high-school students in the country. Professor Weinberg explained that the team started by analyzing children who experienced the death of one parent.
“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens.These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”
Study co-author Eric Gould of Hebrew University said in other words, parenting matters. “Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids.”
The study also found that the negative effect of losing a mother can be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. In addition, there were no differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died compared to those who did not.
Overall, the effect of losing a parent was worse for girls than for boys. The results for children whose parents had divorced were very similar to those who had experienced the death of a parent.
“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” said Professor Weinberg.
“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”
The study is published in the Journal of Labor Economics.