Thompson Rivers University

Education: a maternal influence?

April 4, 2022

New research suggests that mothers who graduate from university pass on educational advantages to their daughters. Their sons don’t see the same gains.

If you are fortunate enough to attend university, you will likely experience a host of benefits during your lifetime, from a higher income to better health indicators. If you have a degree, it’s also likely that one of your parents does as well. That’s because a child’s level of education is significantly affected by the education achieved by their parents—particularly if that child is female, finds new research from the Bob Gaglardi School of Business and Economics.

Dr. Ehsan Latif, associate dean and economics professor, is interested in education’s role at reducing income inequality. In previous research, he has looked at the role of fathers in their children’s educational outcomes. In his most recent paper, Mothers, sons, and daughters: intergenerational transmission of education in Canada, he turns his attention to mothers.

“Educational attainment is a critical predictor of economic well-being. We want to see whether children of mothers with a lower level of education can achieve higher levels of education, such as bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. If that happens, then less well-off people can become well-off in the next generation. If it doesn’t happen, then generation by generation, poor people remain poor and rich people remain rich. What I found is that in the mother-daughter relationship, daughters are able to break this chain. But that is not the case for sons,” Latif says. “Sons are not seeing the same level of educational mobility of daughters; in fact, they are experiencing slightly downward educational mobility.”

For his study, Latif looked at data from the Canadian General Social Survey, specifically at age cohorts between 1940 to 1989. During that time, the number of women who attended university and joined the workforce has seen dramatic changes. Between 1991 and 2015, for example, the number of women ages 25-64 with a university certificate or degree increased from 15 to 35 percent. And women with degrees now outnumber men by 6.5 percentage points.

So why are boys less successful at university? Latif says there is a large gap in the research about why this is happening, but some studies suggest boys were more likely to fail or receive lower grades in high school, and they identified that weak performance in high school as a possible reason for lower post-secondary participation.

“The research shows two issues: the first is the decline of educational mobility for boys or sons. The second issue is that even daughters, in order to achieve higher education than their parents, still need support. There is a strong correlation between financial support and educational outcomes. So if there is more support for public spending in education, that will help everyone,” Latif says.

Dr. Ehsan Latif


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