Children's Schooling and the Social Stratification of Parents in Later Life

TitleChildren's Schooling and the Social Stratification of Parents in Later Life
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsEsther M. Friedman
Number of Pages205
UniversityUniversity of California, Los Angeles
CityUnited States -- California
Thesis Type3486582
KeywordsAdult children, Demographics, Healthcare, Other

This dissertation expands upon the sociological and social stratification research on the intergenerational effects of education, by looking upward across the generations to understand the effects of educating one generation on the previous generation's health, wealth, and care. Whereas most research on the intergenerational effects of education looks at the effects of parents on their offspring, this dissertation reverses the causal arrow to look at the "upward" intergenerational effects of children on their parents. In later life, in particular, the socioeconomic resources of children may be an important predictor of how parents fare and why some parents do better than others. Data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) are used to investigate the costs and benefits to parents of having highly-educated children. The first two chapters investigate the potential benefits to parents that stem from having highly-educated children, specifically regarding health and later life care. The third chapter looks at a possible downside to producing highly-educated children--the toll it takes on parental wealth. More specifically, in Chapter One I ask: Does children's education affect parents' survival, and if so, how? I find that parents with highly-educated children live longer than those with less-educated children, even after controlling for parents' own education, income, and wealth. This effect is most pronounced for more preventable deaths, particularly those linked to health behaviors. In fact, two means through which educated children improve their parents' health include getting parents to smoke less and exercise more. In Chapter Two, I examine the role of children's education on the care and financial help that parents receive in later life. In this chapter I ask two primary questions: (1) Are parents of highly-educated children more likely to receive financial and time help? And (2) Is it having highly-educated children that benefits parents--regardless of how the children came to be educated--or are educated children providing this benefit largely in reciprocation for their parents' earlier investment in their schooling? I use data on adult children's educational attainments and on whether parents helped fund children's schooling to examine these questions. The results of this chapter show that parents of college-educated children are more likely to receive financial help from their children than parents of less-educated children. In addition, these effects are more pronounced for parents who helped fund their children's schooling. The final chapter of my dissertation examines the wealth trajectories of parents over the life course. This chapter investigates the extent to which children's college enrollment is related to parents' wealth trajectories before, during, and after educating their children. This chapter shows that, despite the high cost of college tuition, parents whose children attend college have more (not less) wealth than their counterparts in later life, and over most of their lifetimes. They have both higher levels and a greater rate of wealth accumulation over the life course, starting even before their first child enters college. Debt exhibits a parallel trend, with parents of highly-educated children incurring more debt than their counterparts, particularly in mid-life. After accounting for the timing of children's schooling, we can see why. Although parents' liquid assets drop when the oldest child turns 18, parental debt levels soar when children enter college and drop just after they leave school. For parents whose children do not attend college, levels of liquid assets and debts remain fairly constant over the life course. Taken together, this dissertation shows that having highly-educated children has significant implications for parents: highly-educated children improve their parents' health behaviors, increase their longevity, increase the likelihood that parents will receive financial help in later life and, although highly-educat d children are costly, parents of highly-educated children have more (not less) wealth in later life than do their counterparts. This work not only bears on current stratification and education research, but also has practical implications for policy decisions concerning the costs and benefits of educating one generation of the family for the broader family unit.

Endnote Keywords

intergenerational Transfers

Endnote ID


Short TitleChildren's Schooling and the Social Stratification of Parents in Later Life
Citation Key6302