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The Relationship Between Maternal Education and Children's Academic Outcomes: A Theoretical Framework

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The importance of maternal education for children's academic outcomes is widely recognized, and yet the multiple potential mechanisms that explain this relationship are underexplored. The authors integrate theories of human, cultural, and social capital with 2 developmental psychology theories—bioecological theory and developmental niche theory—to draw attention to how maternal education may influence children's academic outcomes through a range of parenting mechanisms, some of which have been largely neglected in research. This framework provides a more complete picture of how maternal education shapes proximal and distal influences on children's academic outcomes and the ways in which these mechanisms interact and reinforce one another across time and context. The implications of this framework for future family research are then discussed.
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J F. H, P A. M,  D H New York University
The Relationship Between Maternal Education
and Children’s Academic Outcomes:
A Theoretical Framework
The importance of maternal education for chil-
dren’s academic outcomes is widely recognized,
and yet the multiple potential mechanisms that
explain this relationship are underexplored.
The authors integrate theories of human, cul-
tural, and social capital with 2 developmental
psychology theories—bioecological theory
and developmental niche theory—to draw
attention to how maternal education may inu-
ence children’s academic outcomes through a
range of parenting mechanisms, some of which
have been largely neglected in research. This
framework provides a more complete picture
of how maternal education shapes proximal
and distal inuences on children’s academic
outcomes and the ways in which these mech-
anisms interact and reinforce one another
across time and context. The implications of this
framework for future family research are then
discussed.
Family socioeconomic status (SES)—generally
measured by parents’ education, income, or
employment status or a combination thereof—is
recognized across disciplines as contributing to
Department of Applied Psychology, New York University,
246 Greene St., 619E, New York, NY 10003
(jess.harding@nyu.edu).
Key Words: ecological, education, intergenerational trans-
mission, parental investment/involvement, parenting, social
capital.
educational disparities (Coleman et al., 1966;
Duncan & Murnane, 2011). Although they are
highly interrelated, specic components of SES
may inuence child outcomes through particu-
lar mechanisms (Duncan & Magnuson, 2003,
2012). There are relatively rich literatures on the
processes by which income and employment
affect children, but there is a comparative lack
of understanding of the complex processes by
which parents’ education inuences children’s
outcomes to drive such disparities. Parental
education may be a particularly important
factor in contributing to children’s academic
outcomes, with research suggesting it has the
strongest relationships with children’s cog-
nitive development (Reardon, 2011). In the
United States, there is more than a 0.5-standard
deviation difference in test scores between
children whose parents have a college degree
and children whose parents have a high school
degree (Duncan et al., 2012). These differences
have implications for children’s longer term
educational outcomes: High school graduates
whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree
are nearly twice as likely to enroll in college
than high school graduates whose parents have
less than a high school degree (Choy, 2001).
Moreover, young adults whose parents have not
attended college often enroll in less selective col-
leges than they are qualied for, and even when
they do attend selective colleges, they graduate
at lower rates (Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson,
60 Journal of Marriage and Family 77 (February 2015): 60–76
DOI:10.1111/jomf.12156
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 61
2009; Engle, 2007). Overall, research sug-
gests that the intergenerational transmission
of educational attainment is strong in many
developed nations, including the United States
(Duncan et al., 2012).
In this article we develop a theoretical
framework to better understand the range of
parenting practices by which maternal educa-
tion inuences children’s academic outcomes.
In light of the well-documented importance of
parental education and the fact that mothers
are still commonly the primary caregivers for
children, scholars need to explicate the “black
box” of the effects of maternal education.
When mechanisms of maternal education are
explored, typically only a single mediator (e.g.,
language use in the home) is examined. In
addition, research has focused on mechanisms
that occur within dyadic interactions between
mothers and their children. In our view, a more
complete understanding of the mechanisms
through which maternal education inuences
children’s academic outcomes requires a frame-
work that explores how mothers operate at
multiple levels of the bioecological environment
to promote their children’s educational devel-
opment. For example, contextual factors, such
as the educational attainment of mothers’ social
networks or the relationship between mothers
and schools or neighborhoods, are potentially
important mechanisms. In fact, the repeti-
tion of mechanisms across different settings
likely contributes to making maternal education
such a potent force in children’s academic
development.
We begin this article with a brief review of
empirical evidence that suggests that maternal
education has unique causal inuences on chil-
dren’s academic outcomes. Next, we introduce
developmental niche theory and discuss how
integrating this with theories of human, cultural,
and social capital and bioecological theory pro-
vides a useful and parsimonious lens through
which to explore the effects of maternal educa-
tion on children’s academic outcomes. Each type
of capital, its relationship to maternal education,
and the distinct set of inuences on children’s
academic outcomes related to this form of capi-
tal are then described in detail in order to show
the multitude of ways that maternal education
may have effects. We next describe other forms
of capital that may enable many mechanisms
to take place. Then we discuss different ways
that mechanisms may interrelate to improve chil-
dren’s outcomes. Finally, how this framework
can be used to develop future family research is
discussed. It is important to note that the goal
is not to summarize these theories but to inte-
grate and apply them to deepen understanding of
the inuence of maternal education on children’s
academic development.
T I  M E
 C’ A O
Higher levels of maternal education are posi-
tively associated with many different academic
outcomes for children throughout development.
Prior to children’s school entry, higher mater-
nal education has been associated with more
advanced spontaneous language production
(Dollaghan et al., 1999) and standardized cog-
nitive achievement tests (Magnuson, Sexton,
Davis-Kean, & Huston, 2009). Throughout ele-
mentary, middle, and high school, meta-analytic
ndings demonstrate strong and consistent
associations between maternal education and
children’s academic achievement, including
students’ grade-point averages and SAT scores
(Sirin, 2005). Later in development, adolescents
with mothers with higher levels of education are
more likely to complete high school and enroll in
college (Choi, Raley, Muller, & Riegle-Crumb,
2008). Although this research suggests there
is a positive association between higher levels
of maternal education and children’s academic
outcomes across childhood and adolescence, it
does not necessarily imply that maternal educa-
tion is the cause of children’s outcomes. This is
because maternal education is associated with a
number of different characteristics—including
income, family background, and genetics—that
are also associated with child outcomes.
A number of methods have been used to
address this issue of causality (see Holmlund,
Lindahl, & Plug, 2011, for a review). Studies of
the children of identical twin siblings who have
different levels of education have attempted to
separate genetic from environmental inuences.
Although these studies typically show larger
effects for paternal than maternal education
when they control for assortative mating (e.g.,
Haegeland, Kirkeboen, Raaum, & Salvanes,
2010), analyses of more recent cohorts, in which
mothers have more access to education, found
that mothers’ schooling had a signicant positive
62 Journal of Marriage and Family
causal effect on their children’s schooling (Bin-
gley, Christensen, & Jensen, 2009). Studies that
explore the intergenerational transmission of
education for adoptive versus biological children
typically show positive associations between
both parents’ education and children’s out-
comes, although results are typically smaller for
adopted children (Haegeland et al., 2010, but cf.
Plug, 2004). In addition, research has found con-
sistent causal effects of maternal education at the
low end of the educational distribution. One set
of research has isolated the effect of education
by showing that increases in maternal educa-
tion, once mothers already have children, are
associated with improvements in children’s cog-
nitive scores (Harding, 2014; Magnuson, 2007;
Magnuson et al., 2009). Stronger causal evi-
dence is provided by an instrumental-variables
analysis of an experimental study of approaches
to welfare that found that mothers’ completion
of additional months of education had positive
effects on the cognitive skills of their children
(Gennetian, Magnuson, & Morris, 2008). In
addition, studies of changes in compulsory
schooling laws have found signicant effects
of mothers’ education on children’s educational
attainment (Black, Devereux, & Salvanes, 2005;
Chevalier, 2004) and reductions in children’s
grade repetition (Oreopoulos, Page, & Stevens,
2006). In sum, although there are some mixed
results, overall the evidence suggests the impor-
tance of maternal education and demonstrates
the need for work exploring the key mechanisms
of the relationship between maternal education
and children’s academic outcomes (Holmlund
et al., 2011).
A F  U
 I  M E
The heuristic framework that guides our inte-
gration of theories of capital, bioecological
theory, and developmental niche theory is
shown in Figure 1. The initial construct of
interest is maternal education. In this article
we use the term maternal education broadly,
to refer to a greater number of years spent
in education. The outcome of interest is chil-
dren’s academic functioning, which is dened
as including three interrelated, but separate
outcomes: (a) cognitive skills, (b) academic
achievement, and (c) educational attainment.
Cognitive skills include abilities such as oral
language and information-processing skills
that form the basis for learning (Duncan et al.,
2007). Cognitive skills are also important for
children at later ages, given that performance
on standardized tests intended to measure
cognitive ability are important for acceptance
to college. Academic achievement refers to
how well students do in school, as measured
by their grades. Because grades are assigned
by teachers they also capture a set of behav-
ioral skills, such as how well students behave
in school. The term educational attainment
captures educational progress by measuring the
highest level of schooling that an individual
receives. All three outcomes measure children’s
academic outcomes, broadly dened, and are
correlated with one another across development.
We mention briey where there are expected
differences in the strength of the relationship
of these outcomes with particular mediators
in the model.
We propose that maternal education increases
mothers’ access to human, cultural, and social
capital and that these forms of capital are then
used by mothers in a variety of ways to promote
their children’s academic outcomes. Rather
than focusing on the constellation of family
conditions that are related to maternal education
and have been studied more extensively, such as
income (economic capital) and family structure
(e.g., Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; McLana-
han, 2004), we focus on understanding how
maternal education shapes a set of proximal
and distal parenting practices that are related
to each form of capital. Parenting behaviors
are the focus because such practices are unique
pathways through which maternal education
may inuence children’s academic outcomes,
after accounting for the other components of
SES. Moreover, parenting practices directly
inuence children on an everyday basis and
are a well-established inuence on children’s
academic development (Borkowski, Ramey,
& Bristol-Power, 2001). As we shall describe,
we explore parenting behaviors that are not
limited to dyadic interactions between mothers
and children but play out at different levels
of the ecological environment, including the
microsystem, the exosystem, and the mesosys-
tem (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). To
highlight the distinctiveness of the mechanisms
associated with each form of capital, we discuss
how these occur primarily at specic levels of
the bioecological model, but we also note where
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 63
F . T M  M   I  M E  C’ A
O.
these mechanisms occur at other levels. We dis-
cuss specic examples of mediators associated
with each form of capital; however, this is not
intended to be exhaustive. Instead, we hope
these examples can direct attention to a wider
range of mechanisms than has been explored
to date.
Drawing on developmental niche theory
highlights how children’s academic develop-
ment is enhanced by the systematic, repetitive,
and diverse nature of the mechanisms used by
mothers. Developmental niche theory maintains
that environments “present a ‘message’ or create
a continuing experience for the developing child
far more potent than one would imagine from
examining only a single element in this pattern”
(Super & Harkness, 1999, p. 280). The concept
that there are patterns and consistency in the
messages and experiences to which children are
exposed over time is termed thematic elabo-
ration (e.g., mothers reading to their children
repeatedly from infancy through late child-
hood). The concept that different concurrent
mechanisms from several parts of the envi-
ronment reinforce one another to convey the
same message during a single developmental
period is termed contemporary redundancy
(e.g., mothers, teachers, and librarians all read-
ing aloud to children). Although the concept of
the developmental niche is usually applied to
understanding cultural differences in parenting,
the key ideas are also useful in conceptualizing
how the mechanisms associated with maternal
education reinforce each other to inuence
children’s academic outcomes (Pellegrini &
Stanic, 1993).
The integration of developmental niche the-
ory with theories of capital and the bioecologi-
cal model draws together different disciplinary
traditions to improve knowledge of the ways
that maternal education benets children’s aca-
demic outcomes, with each theory emphasizing
64 Journal of Marriage and Family
attention to different aspects of this process.
Theories of capital emerge out of economics
and sociology and enable the articulation of
how different forms of currency that exist within
mothers themselves (human), within the con-
gruency between mothers’ attributes and those
valued within the larger societal milieu (cul-
tural), and within individuals to whom mothers
have social ties (social) confer academic advan-
tages to children. Bioecological theory is a cen-
tral psychological theory and, in emphasizing
the multiple nested structures in which children
develop, is a critical tool for recognizing that
the mechanisms linking maternal education and
children’s academic outcomes unfold at multi-
ple levels and for drawing attention to a broader
range of distinct but interrelated inuences on
children’s academic outcomes. Finally, develop-
mental niche theory emerges from psychological
anthropology and adds to these approaches by
illustrating how these diverse mechanisms rein-
force each other. The integration of these theo-
ries draws attention to how maternal education
shapes regularities across time and context to
strongly inuence children’s development.
M H C
A human capital perspective argues that skills,
knowledge, and capabilities that contribute to
productivity are a form of capital that individuals
can develop by investing in themselves (Schultz,
1961). As Coleman (1988) stated, “Human cap-
ital is created by changes in persons that bring
about skills and capabilities that make them
able to act in new ways” (p. S100). Nations
may invest in the human capital of their citizens
(World Economic Forum, 2013), but we focus on
individual, rather than national, human capital.
Completing education is the most formal means
of developing skills and knowledge, so educa-
tional attainment is often equated with human
capital. Although we draw on this research,
educational attainment is better considered to
be one factor, alongside health and on-the-job
training, that contributes to the development of
human capital and holds value in the labor mar-
ket (Becker, 2002; Schultz, 1961).
Maternal human capital “provides the poten-
tial for a cognitive environment for the child
that aids learning” (Coleman, 1988, p. S109) as
mothers use their own cognitive skills in inter-
actions to promote their children’s development.
Thus, in ecological terms, mechanisms that
involve human capital occur primarily in the
microsystem of the bioecological model, dened
as “a pattern of activities, social roles, and inter-
personal relations experienced by the developing
person in a given face-to-face setting” (Bron-
fenbrenner, 1994, p. 1645). Although human
capital mechanisms most often occur within the
home context in dyadic interactions between
mothers and their children, these mechanisms
also occur at other levels of the bioecological
system such as when mothers use their human
capital skills in interactions with other people.
Maternal Education and Human Capital
As depicted in the heuristic model illustrated
in Figure 1, completion of additional education
is a central way that individuals can develop
their human capital (Path a). Through educa-
tion, mothers develop a set of skills, includ-
ing cognitive exibility (e.g., learning to think
about concepts simultaneously and in complex
ways), problem-solving ability (e.g., hypothe-
sis testing), language skills (e.g., vocabulary),
and skills for gathering information and apply-
ing this information to novel situations (e.g.,
research skills; Mirowsky & Ross, 2003). Moth-
ers with higher levels of education can then use
these different skills to enhance their children’s
academic outcomes, for example, through (a)
language use and (b) the quality and quantity of
maternal engagement in cognitively stimulating
parenting practices.
Language Use
Mothers with greater human capital have more
advanced language skills and more extensive
vocabularies, and they use these in daily inter-
actions with their children (Path bin Figure 1).
Hart and Risley’s (1995) seminal study docu-
mented substantial discrepancies in the everyday
language environments of children with parents
with different SES: Children whose parents
received public assistance (e.g., Aid to Families
with Dependent Children) were exposed to less
than one third of the words to which children
from working-class and high-income families
were exposed. These discrepancies also exist
across groups dened by maternal education,
with a review indicating that college-educated
mothers talk more, ask more questions, and
use fewer directives with their young chil-
dren than do high-school-educated mothers
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 65
(Hoff, 2003). Although most research focuses
on child–mother speech, mothers’ language
abilities are also utilized in interactions with
people other than their child, and the more
varied language used in these conversations
may expose children to additional vocabulary
(Hoff-Ginsberg, 1991). The notion of contem-
porary redundancy highlights that children of
mothers with higher levels of education are
exposed to higher level language in both direct
and indirect interactions; this consistency of
exposure to language is expected to strongly
inuence children’s development.
Children exposed to more enriched language
environments demonstrate more advanced lan-
guage abilities, a crucial component of chil-
dren’s cognitive skills (Path cin Figure 1). For
instance, the complexity of mothers’ speech in
naturalistic daily interactions has been signi-
cantly associated with children’s early vocabu-
lary development (Hoff, 2003) and complexity
of speech at school entry (Huttenlocher, Vasil-
yeva, Cymerman, & Levine, 2002). Moreover,
intervention research that trained low-income
parents to use “elaborative reminiscing” (dis-
cussing past events with children) in daily con-
versations showed a signicant positive effect on
students’ story comprehension (Reese, Leyva,
Sparks, & Grolnick, 2010).
Quantity and Quality of Engagement
in Cognitively Stimulating Parenting Practices
Mothers with greater human capital use more
frequent and higher quality cognitively stim-
ulating parenting practices, that is, practices
intended to promote children’s academic out-
comes (Path din Figure 1). Thematic elaboration
draws attention to the ways in which these pro-
cesses occur throughout development, meaning
that children with more highly educated mothers
experience a consistently stimulating environ-
ment. During infancy and preschool, mothers
with more education read, tell stories, recite
rhymes, sing songs, and do art with their chil-
dren more frequently than their counterparts
with less education (Raikes et al., 2006; Suizzo
& Stapleton, 2007). Beyond these measures
of particular behaviors, Magnuson and col-
leagues (Magnuson, 2007; Magnuson et al.,
2009) have found that when young moth-
ers returned to school there were signicant
increases in a composite measure of the quality
and quantity of stimulation and support avail-
able to a child in the home (Home Observation
for Measurement of the Environment scores;
Caldwell & Bradley, 2003). During middle
childhood, highly educated mothers can use
their own skills and knowledge (e.g., of world
events) to contribute effectively to children’s
homework (Kohl, Lengua, & McMahon, 2000;
Lareau, 1987).
Over and above more highly educated moth-
ers’ more frequent engagement in cognitively
stimulating parenting practices, mothers may
engage in higher quality interactions with
their children because they are able to more
appropriately tailor cognitively stimulating
activities to their children’s developmental level
(Benasich & Brooks-Gunn, 1996; Kalil, Ryan,
& Corey, 2012). For instance, as well as reading
to their children more frequently, mothers with
higher levels of human capital may choose a
more developmentally appropriate book and ask
more questions while reading it to their child.
Torr (2004) described how college-educated
mothers used book reading for more general
exploration of external phenomena and human
nature compared to their less educated coun-
terparts. The greater quality and quantity of
engagement in these activities illustrates con-
temporary redundancy. Moreover, the tailoring
of these activities to children’s development
across time (Kalil et al., 2012) illustrates the
concept of thematic elaboration, which sug-
gests that the continuity and regularity in the
use of these parenting practices over the course
of children’s development contributes to their
effectiveness in enhancing children’s academic
outcomes.
A substantial amount of research demon-
strates that cognitively stimulating parenting
practices are a strong inuence on children’s
academic outcomes (Path ein Figure 1). Chil-
dren whose parents read to them and teach them
numbers and letters more frequently have been
shown to have higher literacy scores in early
childhood (Senechal & LeFevre, 2002), and
ratings on the Home Observation for Measure-
ment of the Environment scale have been linked
to numerous academic outcomes for children
across development (Dubow & Ippolito, 1994).
Finally, experimental evidence has illustrated
that training parents to use richer book-reading
techniques, such as asking more open-ended
questions, signicantly improves their children’s
66 Journal of Marriage and Family
expressive language skills (Arnold, Lonigan,
Whitehurst, & Epstein, 1994).
M C C
In Bourdieu’s (1986) articulation of cultural
capital, schools and other societal institutions
are not neutral; instead, they more closely
reect and privilege the experiences of the
“dominant class” (see also Lamont & Lareau,
1988). More specically, educational gatekeep-
ers (e.g., teachers, administrators) recognize
and value individuals who prefer high-culture
activities (e.g., art and theater) and who exhibit
particular linguistic structures and behav-
ioral codes (Bourdieu, 1986; Lareau, 2011).
Cultural capital encompasses a set of pref-
erences and behaviors that, although not
inherently better than others, are relevant for
educational success because they are sanctioned
in a particular society’s educational settings
(Lareau, 2011).
Cultural capital mechanisms are inherently
transactional because the preferences and behav-
iors they encompass require recognition and
validation by key gatekeeping individuals and
institutions. The concept of cultural capital thus
shifts our focus from mechanisms occurring
primarily within the family microsystem to
mechanisms that principally occur in the inter-
action between different microsystems, termed
the mesosystem in the bioecological model.
The interactions between schools and families
are likely to be central foci for these cultural
capital mechanisms, given that these are two of
the primary microsystems children experience
(Crosnoe, 2004), but cultural capital can also be
used by families in interactions with neighbor-
hood institutions, including cultural and formal
activity groups. Cultural capital mechanisms are
related to but distinct from the human capital
mechanisms previously discussed. For instance,
in addition to teaching language itself (a human
capital mechanism), mothers teach children
social conventions about how to use language in
desired ways. When these conventions are con-
gruent with those that are socially sanctioned,
mothers’ teaching and modeling of cultural
capital can enhance children’s capacity to nav-
igate settings such as schools and community
centers.
Maternal Education and Cultural Capital
Prior research has shown that relationships
exist between cultural capital and social class,
dened by education, occupation, and income
collectively (Bourdieu, 1986; Lareau, 1987,
2011), and we contend that exposure to educa-
tion, in particular, increases mothers’ levels of
cultural capital (Path fin Figure 1). Education
increases the length and frequency of moth-
ers’ exposure to high-culture activities such
as theater and art, reinforcing their knowledge
about and preferences for such activities (Smith,
1995). In addition, mothers with more education
have been exposed to the language codes and
norms of educational settings over a longer
period of time and gain greater familiarity with
them (Crosnoe & Kalil, 2010). The children of
mothers with greater cultural capital can then
reap academic advantages, and in the following
sections we discuss two examples of this: (a)
through modeling and explicit teaching, mothers
can transmit cultural capital to their children,
and (b) mothers can use their own cultural
capital to negotiate high-quality educational
experiences for their children.
Transmission of Cultural Capital
Mothers with higher cultural capital can trans-
mit this to their children through modeling and
teaching cultural capital (Path gin Figure 1).
In terms of transmitting preferences for high
culture, higher parental education is associated
with more frequent engagement of children in
high-culture activities, such as museum visits
and art classes (Lareau, 2011). Indeed, in a
national sample of eighth-grade students, even
when controlling for income and students’ prior
academic ability, 50% of students whose parents
had less than a high school education versus
11% of students whose parents had graduated
from college had never attended art, dance,
music, or language classes and had not visited a
museum outside of school (Wildhagen, 2009).
The concept of thematic elaboration draws atten-
tion to the fact that the building of preferences
for high culture is unlikely to occur through a
single exposure in time; instead, visits to devel-
opmentally appropriate cultural institutions and
enrollment in activities during different age
periods is necessary. Moreover, contemporary
redundancy exemplies that cultural capital
is built most effectively in a variety of set-
tings, as evidenced by the extremely structured
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 67
nature of middle-class children’s time (Lareau,
2011).With regard to transmitting valued behav-
iors, mothers with greater cultural capital have
more understanding of school structures and are
thus better equipped to model and teach socially
valued ways of interacting with educational set-
tings, such as speaking politely but assertively
(Lareau, 2011). Mothers with higher cultural
capital may explicitly teach their children to
interact with teachers or administrators to get
what they want. For example, a mother could
instruct her child on how to approach a teacher
to nd out how to improve a bad grade. Again,
thematic elaboration illustrates that for children
to develop facility with the set of behav-
iors valued in educational settings, mothers’
modeling and teaching of such behaviors must
take place over different developmental peri-
ods, because the behaviors valued in early
school settings are not the same as those valued
in college.
A cultural capital perspective argues that
through these parenting behaviors, children
gain cultural capital (Path hin Figure 1) and that
children with higher cultural capital have a num-
ber of proximal experiences in school (Paths
i,k, and m) that ultimately positively inuence
their academic outcomes (Paths j,l, and n).
The most well-researched explanation for how
children’s cultural capital inuences their aca-
demic outcomes is that children are rewarded
by educational gatekeepers who misinterpret
children’s knowledge of art and music as intel-
ligence (Paths iand j). Indeed, participation
in high-culture activities has been associated
with teacher-reported academic outcomes for
children and adolescents in a number of studies
that have adjusted for other factors, including
SES and ability (Dumais, 2006; Rosigno &
Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999; Wildhagen, 2009).
Moreover, cultural engagement is formally
sanctioned as desired by educational institu-
tions because participation in extracurricular
activities is a factor in admission to selective
universities (Stampnitzky, 2006). In addition to
being rewarded for their cultural preferences,
children may be rewarded for their ability to
follow the implicit “rules of the game” of educa-
tional settings (Lamont & Lareau, 1988). Next,
children with higher cultural capital probably
feel more comfortable in school settings (Path k)
because there is a closer t between their home
and school systems. Students may feel a natural
t or ease, receive more frequent validation, and
experience less strain in school, which could
contribute to their decisions to attain higher edu-
cation (Path l; Rosigno & Ainsworth-Darnell,
1999). Finally, children may use their cultural
capital to negotiate educational benets for
themselves (Paths mand n). For example, they
can use appropriate behaviors to approach an
administrator to argue for why they should be
allowed to enroll in a class that has prerequisites
they have not completed. Contemporary redun-
dancy draws attention to how similar processes
occur in other settings, including after-school
activities, where children with higher cultural
capital may receive more opportunities, such as
lead roles in plays or leadership positions on
sports teams.
Negotiation and Management of School
Experiences
Mothers also use their own cultural capital to
directly negotiate benets for their children
(Path oin Figure 1) throughout children’s edu-
cation. Cultural capital facilitates the frequency
and effectiveness of mothers’ interactions with
institutions. Because mothers with higher cul-
tural capital experience a closer t of their social
norms and behaviors with schools, they may
be more frequently involved in their children’s
schooling (e.g., talking with teachers, volunteer-
ing with school activities) and treated better by
teachers when there (Lareau, 1987; Pomerantz,
Moorman, & Litwack, 2007). Crosnoe and
Kalil (2010) found that increases in immigrant
mothers’ education predicted increased school
involvement, perhaps because exposure to the
U.S. educational system increases mothers’
condence and ability to navigate the system
for their children. As well as being involved
more frequently with school, more highly edu-
cated mothers are more effective in gaining
desired outcomes from institutions than other
parents, providing “hidden advantages” for
their children (Lareau & Cox, 2011; Lareau &
Weininger, 2008). In elementary school, moth-
ers know that being involved in school can give
them greater access to teachers. In high school,
mothers know what to do to get their children
into honors programs. For example, Lareau and
Cox (2011) described a middle-class mother
whose son was accepted into an honors class
after she suggested to the guidance counselor
that he was capable of it and had the support
to succeed. These examples illustrate thematic
68 Journal of Marriage and Family
elaboration because they show that mothers gain
benets for their children throughout the course
of children’s education. Moreover, although the
focus here is on school settings, contemporary
redundancy highlights how mothers can use
their cultural capital to consistently structure
different settings to provide their children
opportunities.
Path pin Figure 1 illustrates our expecta-
tion that children will have more favorable
cognitive and academic outcomes when their
mothers are more highly involved at school
and more skilled at managing their children’s
institutional experiences. Indeed, more frequent
parent involvement in school activities and more
successful management of institutions is related
to better cognitive skills for children in early
elementary school (Fan & Chen, 2001), higher
academic achievement for adolescents (Hill &
Tyson, 2009), and enhanced success in college
(Lareau & Cox, 2011).
M S C
Social relationships can act as a form of capital
by providing access to rewards and benets,
including pertinent educational information or
admission to educational institutions (Portes,
2000). There are numerous denitions of social
capital that explain processes at the individ-
ual and societal levels (Portes, 2000; Putnam,
1995). We focus on individual social capital
because we are interested in how variation in
mothers’ access to social capital inuences
their children. We draw primarily on Bourdieu’s
(1986) conception of social capital to explore
how social capital differs according to individu-
als’ network ties to others who have high levels
of capital. As Portes (2000) described, “Bour-
dieu’s denition makes clear that social capital
is decomposable into two elements: rst, the
social relationship itself that allows individuals
to claim access to resources possessed by their
associates, and second, the amount and quality
of those resources” (p. 3). In particular, we use a
social network perspective to highlight the ways
that mothers’ network connections beyond the
immediate family enable unique mechanisms
of the relationship between maternal education
and children’s academic outcomes (Cochran &
Brassard, 1979; Lin, 2000).
We acknowledge that this denition of
maternal social capital neglects other important
denitions of the concept, including Coleman’s
(1988) conceptualization of family social capi-
tal, which captures “the bonds between parents
and children useful in promoting child socializa-
tion, and as such includes the time and attention
that parents spend in interactions with children
and in monitoring their activities and promoting
child well-being” (Parcel, Dufur, & Zito, 2010,
p. 830). This denition of family social capital
is set aside until the section titled  -
    because our focus is
on maternal social capital—the social capital
that is available to mothers—rather than social
capital in the family, family social capital takes
the child as the unit of analysis and explores
social capital as it is available to children (e.g.,
how family structure can affect the time parents
have to devote to children). More specically,
the focus in this framework is on how maternal
education can increase maternal social capital
in ways that are benecial to children.
Social capital mechanisms are distinct from
but linked with human and cultural capital
mechanisms. Whereas a human capital perspec-
tive focuses on how mothers use their education
in interactions with their children, social capital
focuses on interactions that take place between
mothers and people in their social networks or
between people in mothers’ social networks
and children. The distinction between cultural
and social capital mechanisms is subtle but
critical: Social capital focuses on the existence
of the social relationships themselves, whereas
cultural capital focuses on mothers’ abilities
to use behaviors that aid in navigating these
social and institutional relationships. More
specically, social capital encompasses, for
example, knowing a school administrator or
the organizer of neighborhood activities, and
cultural capital includes knowing how to use
these relationships to gain educational rewards.
Thus, just as cultural capital theory shifts our
gaze to mechanisms occurring mainly in the
mesosystem of the bioecological model, certain
social capital mechanisms require attention to
processes occurring at the level of the exosys-
tem; that is, links between settings that do not
directly contain the developing person but that
can still inuence processes within the individ-
ual’s immediate context. Even when children
are not in direct contact with their mothers’
networks, these networks can contribute to
children’s academic success through providing
mothers with access to information that mothers
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 69
use to structure high-quality educational experi-
ences. People in mothers’ social networks may
also inuence children directly; as summarized
eloquently by Stanton-Salazar (1997), “Chil-
dren are seldom raised exclusively within the
connes of their nuclear families; rather, they
are raised embedded in social networks that
extend out into various social worlds where a
wide variety of socialization actors and spheres
are found” (p. 7). In this way, mechanisms
related to maternal social capital may also occur
in children’s microsystems.
M E  S C
We propose that more highly educated moth-
ers are more likely than their less well educated
counterparts to be embedded in social networks
that contain knowledge, skills, and resources that
are relevant to children’s academic success (Path
qin Figure 1). As Stanton-Salazar and Dorn-
busch (1995) explained, a network perspective
underscores how educational attainment relates
to differences in the opportunity to enter into
inuential social relationships. To begin, attend-
ing college offers mothers the opportunity to
connect with others who are achieving college
degrees, an opportunity that is less available to
those who do not attend college. This inequal-
ity in initial access to highly educated others is
maintained by the fact that people in particu-
lar jobs have similar education levels, constrain-
ing the opportunity to create contacts across
educational boundaries. Given the intergenera-
tional transmission of educational attainment,
mothers with lower education may also rely on
extended kin networks who are in similar situa-
tions (Stack, 1974). This educational homophily
has real consequences given that it “limits peo-
ple’s social worlds in a way that has powerful
implications for the information they receive,
the attitudes they form, and the interactions they
experience” (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook,
2001, p. 415).
Although research has documented educa-
tional homophily (Marsden, 1988; McPherson
et al., 2001), no research of which we are aware
has directly examined associations between the
educational attainment of mothers’ social net-
works and their children’s academic outcomes.
Instead, we draw on related evidence to theorize
two potential mechanisms through which mater-
nal social capital may affect children’s academic
outcomes: (a) by providing mothers with access
to information regarding academic and (b) by
providing role models with high education who
socialize children toward academic success.
Collection of Educational Information
Network ties to others who have high levels
of capital provide mothers with information
and access to academic resources (Path rin
Figure 1). Educational homophily means that
mothers with higher levels of education have
more “weak ties” with other individuals with
high levels of education. Granovetter (1973)
described weak ties as characterized by low
emotional intensity and few reciprocal services,
in comparison to strong ties, which are charac-
terized by frequent contact and high levels of
trust. Granovetter showed that people were more
likely to nd jobs through weak ties than strong
ties because strong tie contacts had social net-
works similar to those of the job seeker, whereas
weak tie contacts were more likely to nd out
about novel job opportunities. In the same way,
weak tie connections with high levels of edu-
cation may be important in providing mothers
with information; for instance, a coworker could
suggest an after-school activity that covers child
care during work hours.
The information gained from mothers’ social
networks can help them create higher quality
educational experiences (Path sin Figure 1) to
positively inuence their children’s academic
outcomes (Path t). For instance, through dis-
cussing school issues with other parents who
have a lot of knowledge about the school moth-
ers can gain information about who the best
teachers are and advocate for their children to be
placed with these teachers. Mothers’ social net-
works can also provide information relevant to
choosing high-quality schools from early child-
hood through college. The most common ways
that parents report learning about schools are
“word of mouth” and “talking to others” (Glenn,
McLaughlin, & Salganik, 1993). Lareau (2014)
reported that suburban parents primarily relied
on their social networks to choose neighbor-
hoods and, subsequently, schools. She described
how, because of differences in the social net-
works of working- and middle-class parents,
the schools in which their children ended up in
were very different: “These networks matter in
that they are a conduit for valuable information.
. . . [T]hese networks shaped the creation of
choice sets, which in turn shape the kinds
70 Journal of Marriage and Family
of schools that families and youth consider”
(p. 199). Mothers’ social networks are also rel-
evant later in children’s educational trajectories
as individuals in mothers’ networks who have
attended college themselves can provide infor-
mation about their college experiences to assist
adolescents in the college decision-making
process. Thematic elaboration illuminates how
maternal social capital can create a developmen-
tal niche for children in which they experience
high-quality learning institutions across early
child care, K–12 schools, after-school activities,
and college.
Role Models With High Educational
Achievement
The educational homophily of mothers’ social
networks means that children are exposed
to multiple role models with high education,
creating a normative social structure in which
high educational attainment is expected (Path u
in Figure 1). Here, mothers’ strong ties may be
more important than their weak ties. Mothers
with higher levels of education likely have
many friends and family members with high
levels of education to act as role models to their
children. Contemporary redundancy highlights
that through exposure to their mothers’ highly
educated friends and family, these children are
socialized to value education from multiple
sources, and their educational expectations and
subsequent attainment are shaped by being in
a social context with norms of high attainment
(Path v). Indeed, Carbonaro (1998) showed the
importance of such shared norms; intergenera-
tional closure (parents knowing more of their
children’s friends’ parents) is associated with
children’s mathematics achievement and a lower
likelihood of dropping out of school. In addition,
high school students who are exposed to more
students with college-educated parents have
higher college enrollment, controlling for their
own prior achievement and family background
(Choi et al., 2008).
O R F  C
As we noted, our particular focus on maternal
human, cultural, and social capital neglects
other potentially important forms of capital. In
this section we discuss how family social capital
and maternal psychological capital may be nec-
essary for mothers to be able to engage in many
of the mechanisms we have outlined. Coleman
(1988) argued that mothers’ human capital is
irrelevant if mothers are not an important part
of their children’s lives. In order for maternal
human capital to be advantageous to children,
mothers must spend time with and invest in
their children (Parcel et al., 2010). Moreover,
children with closer bonds to their parents may
internalize their parents’ socialization of values
more completely (Parcel & Dufur, 2001). In
these ways, family social capital can promote
children’s academic success.
Psychological capital may also enable other
mechanisms to occur. Individuals’ mental
health, sense of control or self-efcacy, and
skills in navigating stressful situations can be
considered to make up their psychological cap-
ital. It is important to note that higher levels of
education are associated with all of these skills
(Augustine & Crosnoe, 2010; Mirowsky & Ross,
2003). Mothers’ psychological capital may be
necessary for their ability to engage in many
of the parenting mechanisms outlined above.
Depression and lower self-efcacy can mean
that mothers are less engaged and consistent in
interactions with their children (Jones & Prinz,
2005; McLearn, Minkovitz, Strobino, Marks,
& Hou, 2006). Moreover, mothers experiencing
depression are less likely to interact with their
social networks and have less satisfying inter-
actions when they do (Nezlet, Imbrie, & Shean,
1994; Segrin, 2000), and lower self-efcacy
is related to less willingness to engage with
schools or neighborhood institutions (Shumow
& Lomax, 2002); these factors can reduce
the inuence of social capital mechanisms on
children’s development. In sum, family social
capital and maternal psychological capital may
enable and enhance many of the behaviors in
which mothers engage.
F D  R:
R B M
The theoretical framework we developed in
this article is intended to draw attention to
the numerous processes through which mater-
nal education affects children’s academic
outcomes, but ultimately the mechanisms asso-
ciated with each type of capital act in concert.
Developmental niche theory argues that this
consistency results in a stronger inuence on
children’s development than examination of
only a single mechanism would suggest. This
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 71
requires an approach to studying mechanisms
that emphasizes how different mechanisms
connect and interact across time and context to
promote children’s development. In this section
we discuss two ways that the mechanisms
associated with different forms of capital may
combine—through reinforcing one another
(repetitive effects) and through interacting
to boost children’s development (synergistic
effects)—and suggest possibilities for future
research to explore these potential interrela-
tionships. In addition, we suggest directions for
future research into specic pathways in the
model where current research is limited.
Repetitive Effects
Developmental niche theory suggests that
there is a repetitive patterning of mechanisms
across types of capital, just as there is among
the mechanisms associated with each type of
capital, such that children’s environments are
consistently organized to produce developmen-
tal outcomes. Thematic elaboration is evident
in the way that mediators related to differ-
ent forms of capital build upon one another
across time. For example, maternal language
use (associated with mothers’ human capi-
tal) inuences their children’s language skills
in kindergarten and, because skills beget skills
(Duncan et al., 2007), these early language skills
can inuence later educational achievement and
attainment. In addition, other mechanisms, such
as the normative expectations that one will
attend college (associated with mothers’ social
capital), can build on these early advantages
to further inuence educational attainment.
Contemporary redundancy is evident in the way
that messages associated with different types
of capital are conveyed within the same time
period across different contexts. For instance,
the environments of young children with highly
educated mothers are often structured to include
frequent book reading activities (associated with
mothers’ human capital), exposure to museums
(associated with mothers’ cultural capital), and
high-quality early childhood education, which
may be chosen through information gained via
mothers’ social capital.
Future Directions for Research
Into Repetitive Effects
The above examples of repetition are theoretical,
but empirical research could be used to explore
the extent to which there is repetition across
children’s environments, for instance: To what
extent are children’s environments consistent in
promoting academic outcomes? Do some moth-
ers use mechanisms associated with particular
forms of capital but not others? To answer these
questions and capture the full range of behaviors
in which mothers engage, different approaches
to research may be needed. Each of the theories
on which we drew for this article emerge out of
different disciplines and rely on somewhat dif-
ferent methods that can be used in conjunction to
gain a more complete understanding of relation-
ships between maternal education and children’s
academic outcomes.
Developmental niche theory has relied pri-
marily on ethnographic methods for exploring
continuity and discontinuity in environments
(Pellegrini & Stanic, 1993). Super and Harkness
(1999) explained that ethnographic research in
the developmental niche tradition focuses on
identifying patterns of behaviors and under-
standing the organizational structure of the
developmental environment. For instance, they
described conducting research that found that
rural Kenyan parents encourage their children’s
motor development through holding their infant
to stimulate the stepping reex, helping their
infant sit upright, and giving their infant practice
in walking. They argued that the combination
of these behaviors results in these children
walking earlier than European-American chil-
dren. Analogously, methods that focus on
one element will not illuminate the pattern of
behaviors that are relevant to explaining how
highly educated mothers promote their chil-
dren’s cognitive development. Indeed, Lareau’s
(2011) ethnographic research, which showed
the multiple ways that cultural capital functions
to provide children with academic benets,
is a prime example of the benets of this
type of research. Ethnographic and qualitative
approaches can provide a key foundation for
better aligned quantitative methods that are
more typically used in psychology, sociology,
and economics. In addition, developmental
niche theory has used spot observations to
quantitatively measure physical and social
settings to determine who is present with the
child and what activities are taking place, for
example, to explore between-group variation
in the use of siblings as caretakers (Super,
1981). Spot observations and diary techniques
could be used to understand regularities in the
72 Journal of Marriage and Family
behaviors in which mothers engage through-
out the day and determine whether there is a
consistent pattern in the kinds of activities that
take place.
Synergistic Effects
Over and above their repetition, the mechanisms
associated with different types of capital may
also relate to one another synergistically such
that their interaction is greater than the sum
of their parts. For instance, mothers’ cultural
capital can enable mothers to interact with their
connections in ways that most successfully use
the social capital available in their networks.
As Stanton-Salazar and Dornbusch (1995)
noted, “The process of inclusion in mainstream
institutions is aided when cultural and lin-
guistic capital are converted into instrumental
relations with institutional agents” (p.120).
Knowledge of the appropriate way to interact
with individuals who have high levels of capital
means that such connections are more useful
for facilitating children’s academic success.
Another example of synergy is that mothers’
cultural capital can manifest in more frequent
visits to museums, and mothers’ knowledge
and understanding of concepts (associated with
mothers’ human capital) can increase children’s
learning in these informal contexts (Siegel,
Esterly, Callanan, Wright, & Navarro, 2007).
Synergy can also enhance mothers’ choice
of schools for their children. Mothers receive
suggestions regarding high-quality schools
from their social networks and then use their
knowledge and information-gathering skills
(associated with mothers’ human capital) to
research and decide on the best schooling option
(Weininger, 2014).
Future Directions for Research
Into Synergistic Effects
More studies are needed to explore how syner-
gistic interactions between types of capital can
promote children’s outcomes. In an example of
this, Parcel and Dufur (2001) studied the inter-
relationships between family and school forms
of capital and found evidence for synergistic
effects such that mothers’ mental ability boosted
the effects of going to a school where teachers
reported higher caring on math achievement.
Nevertheless, they also found some cases in
which the combined effects of family and
school capital were less than would be expected
if the effects were additive (threshold effects). It
is possible that there are similar threshold effects
in the different types of mechanisms associated
with maternal education such that the combina-
tion of mechanisms does not provide additional
benets to children. Researchers could test the
relative importance of different mechanisms
through including multiple mechanisms and
their interactions in a single study. This research
could address questions such as, when parents
use network connections and do their own
research, do they choose higher quality schools
for their children? Does experiencing high
involvement in cultural activities buffer against
low frequency of reading in the household?
Does being read to later in childhood provide
additional benets over being read to earlier
in childhood?
Other Directions for Future Research
In addition to conducting research to explore
the connections and interactions between mech-
anisms, research into specic pathways in our
model would strengthen this area of study.
First, studies frequently use components of SES
interchangeably or as composites, making it
difcult to explore maternal education by itself.
For instance, the Hollingshead index combines
adults’ occupational prestige and education
(Duncan & Magnuson, 2003). Scholars should
pay more attention to disaggregating SES to
explore how the specic components affect
child development (Duncan & Magnuson, 2003,
2012; Mirowsky & Ross, 2003). Because of
complex relationships between socioeconomic
factors, intervention research that provides sup-
ports to mothers to increase their education is
potentially useful for identifying the inuence of
maternal education. Second, although relation-
ships between maternal education and certain
mechanisms are well established (e.g., involve-
ment in schooling, language use), less evidence
exists for the association between maternal edu-
cation and some of the mechanisms discussed
here. Specically, the eld would benet from
quantitative research regarding the extent to
which mothers with different levels of education
manage children’s institutional experiences
and the ways mothers collect educational
information about school and neighborhood
resources and opportunities via their social
networks. Third, additional research regarding
Maternal Education and Children’s Academics 73
the relationship of some particular mechanisms
and children’s academic outcomes is needed,
in particular with regard to the proposed cul-
tural and social capital mechanisms. Future
studies could quantify the educational attain-
ment of mothers’ networks and link this with
children’s academic outcomes. Scholars could
also address the extent to which children are
aware of the educational norms of the social
networks to which they are exposed and whether
their perceptions of these norms are linked to
their educational expectations. Other research
could explore how children negotiate educa-
tional benets for themselves and the ways in
which this contributes to positive educational
experiences. Finally, in this article we focused
on the effects of maternal education because
of the central socializing inuence of mothers.
The importance of paternal education has been
recognized in the status-attainment literature,
but future research and theory could explore the
processes by which paternal education shapes
children’s outcomes in more detail.
C
Maternal education is a salient marker of advan-
tage not only for mothers themselves but also
for their children. Yet the unique parenting
processes by which maternal education inu-
ences children’s academic outcomes have not
been fully explicated, with the vast majority
of research focusing on microsystem interac-
tions between mothers and their children. In the
framework discussed in this article, we presented
a multisystemic conceptualization of a range
of pathways through which maternal education
is expected to inuence children’s academic
outcomes. We highlighted how the repetition
and reinforcement of these mechanisms across
different developmental settings and across time
structure children’s environments in consistent
ways to promote their academic achievement.
We hope that the framework we have outlined in
this article sparks more research into how mater-
nal education shapes a range of mechanisms
that interact to promote children’s academic
outcomes.
N
The research reported here was supported by the
New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women and
NYU-Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training
program. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.
We thank Maia Connors, Allison Friedman-Krauss, Meghan
McCormick, Dana Charles McCoy, Duane Pena, and Sharon
Wolf for their reviews of early drafts of this article.
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Students with low family socioeconomic status (SES) often have lower academic achievement than their peers with high family SES, as has been widely demonstrated. Nevertheless, there is a group of students beating the odds and achieving academic excellence despite the socio-economic background of their families. The students who have the capacity to overcome adversities and achieve successful educational achievements are referred to as academically resilient students. This study’s purpose was to identify the protective factors among academically resilient students. A total of 46,089 students from 303 primary schools in grade 6, 55,477 students from 256 junior high schools in grade 9, and 37,856 students from 66 high schools in grade 11 in a city in northeast China participated in the large-scale investigation. Students completed a structured questionnaire to report their demographic information, psychological characteristics, and three academic tests. A causal comparative research model was applied to determine significant protective factors associated with resilient students (referring to students are resilient if they are among the 25% most socio-economically disadvantaged students in their city but are able to achieve the top 25% or above in all three academic domains). Multivariable logistic regression analyses found that the intrinsic protective factors for resilient students included higher proportion of academic importance identity, higher proportion of achievement approaching motivation, longer-term future educational expectation, and more positive academic emotion compared with non-resilient students; the extrinsic protective factors included parents’ higher proportion of positive expectations for their children’ future development, as well as more harmonious peer and teacher–student relationships. The results of this study provide important targets for psychological intervention of disadvantaged students, and future intervention studies can increase their likelihood of becoming resilient students by improving their recognition of the importance of learning, stronger motivation for achievement approaching, longer-term expectations for future academic careers, and positive academic emotions and harmonious teacher–student relationships.
... There are also significant associations between socioeconomic status (SES), child sex, parental depression, and children's cognitive abilities. Interrelated factors such as maternal education (Harding, 2015;Harding et al., 2015), income (Dickerson and Popli, 2016;Khanam and Nghiem, 2016), marital status (Son and Peterson, 2017), as well as overall SES can have significant effects on children's cognitive abilities, including executive functioning, language development, and academic achievement (see Korous et al., 2020 for a systematic review of meta-analyses). Extensive research has linked maternal depression to poorer cognitive abilities in children, such as lower receptive vocabulary (Letourneau et al., 2013;Kingston et al., 2015;Liu et al., 2017). ...
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The ratification of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 calling for efforts to achieve inclusive economic growth and improved lives for all by 2030, re-focused the discourse highlighting the need for equal access to economic resources among women, and their full and effective participation at all levels of decision-making. The SDGs called for consolidation of efforts to accelerate women’s economic empowerment (WEE) globally, with WEE increasingly viewed as the cornerstone to achieving the SDGs and inclusive economic growth. Thus, government efforts should focus on empowering women economically by providing them with an equal playing field with men. To achieve this, there is a need to understand the extent of WEE, its drivers and barriers, and its relationship with various key areas for economic development. 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As the incomes of affluent and poor families have diverged over the past three decades, so too has the educational performance of their children. But how exactly do the forces of rising inequality affect the educational attainment and life chances of low-income children? In Whither Opportunity? a distinguished team of economists, sociologists, and experts in social and education policy examines the corrosive effects of unequal family resources, disadvantaged neighborhoods, insecure labor markets, and worsening school conditions on K-12 education. This groundbreaking book illuminates the ways rising inequality is undermining one of the most important goals of public education-the ability of schools to provide children with an equal chance at academic and economic success. The most ambitious study of educational inequality to date, Whither Opportunity? analyzes how social and economic conditions surrounding schools affect school performance and children's educational achievement. The book shows that from earliest childhood, parental investments in children's learning affect reading, math, and other attainments later in life. Contributor Meredith Phillip finds that between birth and age six, wealthier children will have spent as many as 1,300 more hours than poor children on child enrichment activities such as music lessons, travel, and summer camp. Greg Duncan, George Farkas, and Katherine Magnuson demonstrate that a child from a poor family is two to four times as likely as a child from an affluent family to have classmates with low skills and behavior problems - attributes which have a negative effect on the learning of their fellow students. As a result of such disparities, contributor Sean Reardon finds that the gap between rich and poor children's math and reading achievement scores is now much larger than it was fifty years ago. And such income-based gaps persist across the school years, as Martha Bailey and Sue Dynarski document in their chapter on the growing income-based gap in college completion. Whither Opportunity? also reveals the profound impact of environmental factors on children's educational progress and schools' functioning. Elizabeth Ananat, Anna Gassman-Pines, and Christina Gibson-Davis show that local job losses such as those caused by plant closings can lower the test scores of students with low socioeconomic status, even students whose parents have not lost their jobs. They find that community-wide stress is most likely the culprit. Analyzing the math achievement of elementary school children, Stephen Raudenbush, Marshall Jean, and Emily Art find that students learn less if they attend schools with high student turnover during the school year - a common occurrence in poor schools. And David Kirk and Robert Sampson show that teacher commitment, parental involvement, and student achievement in schools in high-crime neighborhoods all tend to be low. For generations of Americans, public education provided the springboard to upward mobility. This pioneering volume casts a stark light on the ways rising inequality may now be compromising schools' functioning, and with it the promise of equal opportunity in America.