The Rising Role of Mothers in Children’s Educational Success

Picture a classroom. You’ll probably see students, teachers, textbooks, and perhaps even the ubiquitous apple on the teacher’s desk. However, there is an unseen but powerful presence shaping children’s educational success — their mothers. We’re living in a time when a mother’s educational status is playing an increasingly significant role in shaping their children’s academic journey. Surprisingly, the influence of the father’s educational status seems to be waning. Let’s delve into this intriguing shift.

The Growing Influence of Moms

In a world expecting education expansion to bridge social gaps, a new study conducted by Lancaster University and the University of British Columbia has brought a fresh perspective to the table. The research suggests that an increase in educational opportunities hasn’t necessarily leveled the playing field for children from different parental educational backgrounds.

Most studies have traditionally focused on the role of fathers, rather neglecting the impact mothers can have on their children’s educational success. But guess what? The tide is turning. Across regions like Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and Europe, the significance of a mother’s educational status has now caught up with or even surpassed that of a father’s, especially when it comes to daughters.

Putting a Lens on Gender and Education

The study, titled ‘Gender, education expansion and intergenerational educational mobility around the world’, paints a comprehensive picture of this shift. To obtain a global perspective, researchers pulled together an enormous dataset consisting of 1.79 million individuals born between 1956 and 1990 across 106 societies worldwide. Quite an impressive scope, wouldn’t you agree?

Findings from this extensive research indicate that the stronger association between a mother’s and child’s educational status stems from rising gender equality and the increasing number of mothers who are more educated than the fathers. Interestingly, in contexts where gender equality is less pronounced and mothers are often less educated than the fathers, the association between a mother’s and daughter’s educational status appears to be weaker.

Understanding the Implications of Education Expansion

What does this shift mean for our society? For starters, it shines a light on the changing dynamics of the family unit and the evolving roles within it. As gender equality advances and education becomes more accessible, the influence of a mother’s education on her child’s social mobility has effectively remained constant, if not increased, in many regions.

This shift in parental influence over education poses a challenge to the traditional patriarchal understanding of social mobility. It shows us that viewing social mobility solely from a father’s perspective can paint an overly optimistic picture and possibly overlook crucial patterns. This calls for a more gender-sensitive approach to measuring intergenerational mobility, providing a more accurate representation of education expansion’s societal implications.

Mothers at the Heart of Social Mobility

As we observe more single-parent families, particularly those led by single mothers, this family structure shift could further amplify the importance of the mother in her children’s social mobility. Despite the ongoing global strides towards gender equality, mothers are still largely responsible for child-rearing responsibilities in many parts of the world.

This study urges us to acknowledge the significant role mothers play in shaping their children’s educational journey and overall social mobility. It encourages us to view education and social mobility through a gender lens and a global scope, bringing a new understanding of the interaction between education expansion and the gender revolution.

As we recognize and celebrate the contributions of women around the world on International Women’s Day, let’s hope this research helps catalyze new, gender-sensitive approaches to data collection and measurement development. Such an approach can provide valuable insights to shape educational and social policies that will benefit everyone and help create a more equitable society. After all, a mother’s influence extends far beyond the confines of her own home, shaping the very fabric of our future generations.

Hu, Y., Qian, Y. Gender, education expansion and intergenerational educational mobility around the world. Nat Hum Behav, 2023 Link