There’s no substitute for an involved parent if you want the best performance from students with a study out of Israel highlighting that by examining kids who have one deceased or absent parent.
The researchers found that the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left.
And the opposite was true as well; 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.
"It is also about the time that parents spend with their children," Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at The Ohio State University said.
The research was conducted by Eric Gould and Avi Simhon of Hebrew University in Israel with Weinberg and involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce.
The researchers looked at whether these children passed the 'matriculation exam,' a high-stakes test required to attend college. About 57% of high-school students in the country pass the test.
"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," he said. "These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger."
"Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids."
The study put paid to the idea that the parents' income is really what helps children of the highly educated succeed academically.
If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.
"That's not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study," Weinberg said.
But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.
Results also showed that mothers' education was more closely linked to children's academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.
Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.
"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," Weinberg said.
"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."
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