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Causal Effects of Parents’ Education on Children’s Education


  • John Ermisch


  • Chiara Pronzato



The paper shows that parents’ education is an important, but hardly exclusive part of the common family background that generates positive correlation between the educational attainments of siblings from the same family. But the correlation between the educational attainments of parents and those of their children overstates considerably the causal effect of parents’ education on the education of their children. Our estimates based on Norwegian twin-mothers indicate that an additional year of either mother’s or father’s education increases their children’s education by as little as one-tenth of a year. There is some evidence that the mother’s effect is larger among poorer educated parents, while the father’s effect is larger among better educated parents. We also find that the effect of mother’s education is larger for daughters than sons. There is evidence that father’s education has a larger effect than that of mothers in both the USA and Norway, but the difference in the estimated parental effects is much larger in the USA and is statistically significantly there. One explanation for a smaller maternal effect is that better educated mothers work more in paid employment and spend less time interacting with their children. We test this hypothesis using a ‘matching estimator’ for Norway and find no evidence to support it; indeed children of otherwise identical mothers (on a number of criteria, including both parents education) who worked more in paid employment completed more years of education.

Suggested Citation

  • John Ermisch & Chiara Pronzato, 2010. "Causal Effects of Parents’ Education on Children’s Education," CHILD Working Papers wp05_10, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpc:wplist:wp05_10

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anders Björklund & Mikael Lindahl & Erik Plug, 2006. "The Origins of Intergenerational Associations: Lessons from Swedish Adoption Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(3), pages 999-1028.
    2. Jere R. Behrman & Mark R. Rosenzweig, 2002. "Does Increasing Women's Schooling Raise the Schooling of the Next Generation?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 323-334, March.
    3. Björklund Anders & Hederos Eriksson Karin & Jäntti Markus, 2010. "IQ and Family Background: Are Associations Strong or Weak?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-14, January.
    4. Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2009. "Like father, like son? A note on the intergenerational transmission of IQ scores," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 105(1), pages 138-140, October.
    5. Anger, Silke & Heineck, Guido, 2010. "Do Smart Parents Raise Smart Children? The Intergenerational Transmission of Cognitive Abilities," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 1105-1132.
    6. Ghazala Naz, 2004. "The impact of cash-benefit reform on parents’ labour force participation," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 17(2), pages 369-383, June.
    7. Hertz Tom & Jayasundera Tamara & Piraino Patrizio & Selcuk Sibel & Smith Nicole & Verashchagina Alina, 2008. "The Inheritance of Educational Inequality: International Comparisons and Fifty-Year Trends," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(2), pages 1-48, January.
    8. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2005. "Why the Apple Doesn't Fall Far: Understanding Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 437-449, March.
    9. Björklund, Anders & Lindahl, Lena & Lindquist, Matthew J., 2008. "What More Than Parental Income? An Exploration of What Swedish Siblings Get from Their Parents," IZA Discussion Papers 3735, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. Chiara Pronzato, 2012. "An examination of paternal and maternal intergenerational transmission of schooling," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 25(2), pages 591-608, January.
    11. Jonathan Guryan & Erik Hurst & Melissa Kearney, 2008. "Parental Education and Parental Time with Children," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(3), pages 23-46, Summer.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rud, Iryna & Van Klaveren, Chris & Groot, Wim & Maassen van den Brink, Henriëtte, 2014. "The externalities of crime: The effect of criminal involvement of parents on the educational attainment of their children," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 89-103.
    2. Pufall, Erica & Eaton, Jeffrey W. & Nyamukapa, Constance & Schur, Nadine & Takaruza, Albert & Gregson, Simon, 2016. "The relationship between parental education and children’s schooling in a time of economic turmoil: The case of East Zimbabwe, 2001 to 2011," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 125-134.
    3. Amin, Vikesh & Lundborg, Petter & Rooth, Dan-Olof, 2011. "Mothers Do Matter: New Evidence on the Effect of Parents' Schooling on Children's Schooling Using Swedish Twin Data," IZA Discussion Papers 5946, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Zelinsky, Tomas & Mysikova, Martina & Vecernik, Jiri, 2016. "Occupational Mobility, Educational Mobility and Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantages in Europe," MPRA Paper 76881, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    Parents Education; Children Education;

    JEL classification:

    • D0 - Microeconomics - - General

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