Parent power encourages educational achievement
The conclusion, published this week in the Review of Economics and Statistics, is that it is parents who make the biggest contribution. However, a note of caution is sounded: that as families grow, parents put less effort into each individual child.
Professor Gianni De Fraja, Head of Economics, and Dr Tania Oliveira, Senior Teaching Fellow, collaborated with Dr Luisa Zanchi from Leeds University Business School on the research, which has already generated a great deal of media coverage.
As a basis for the work, the researchers used the 1958 Birth Cohort, a long-term study of children’s development also known as the National Child Development Study. This began 52 years ago with the recording of every birth in England, Scotland and Wales during a single week, 17,000 in total. The educational, physical and social development of the children in the cohort was monitored at ages 7, 11, 16 and 23, providing a unique, immensely valuable dataset which has innumerable applications.
Although the data is currently stored at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies in London, the University of Leicester hosts the administrative aspects of the 1958 Birth Cohort as well as similar studies begun in 1970 and 2000.
Using data from the 1958 Birth Cohort, the researchers viewed the tripartite contributions of children, parents and teachers as a Nash equilibrium. This is a statistical device developed by researchers into game theory, a branch of mathematics widely used in the social sciences.
Basically, a Nash equilibrium is a situation in which two or more parties are aware of each other’s decisions and strategies and base their own individual decisions and strategies on this knowledge. In other words, no-one has anything to gain by changing their own strategy in isolation. Honestly, game theory is not a simple, straightforward thing so don’t worry if that’s not clear.
What is clear is that parents who encourage their children to work hard have a great effect on that child’s educational attainment. And that, in a sort of virtuous circle, hard-working children encourage their parents to provide further support and encouragement.