Increased educational attainment among U.S. mothers and their children's academic expectations

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Existing research provides strong evidence that children with more educated parents have higher academic expectations for themselves, but has yet to consider how an increase in the education of lower educated mothers might alter the expectations of their children. In light of the historic increase in U.S. mothers’ pursuit of additional education, this study investigates this timely question using data from a nationally representative, intergenerational sample of U.S. children and mothers participating in the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (nmothers = 3265; nchildren = 8027). Combining random and fixed effects procedures, the findings revealed that an increase in mothers’ educational attainment is linked to an increase in their children's expectations to earn a Bachelor's degree. Increased maternal education did not, however, buffer against the risk that children will downgrade these expectations upon approaching the end of high school. These results have theoretical importance to traditional models of status attainment, which typically view parental education as a stable feature of family background; extend a small but burgeoning literature that explores whether and why increased maternal education improves the mobility prospects of their children; and speak to current two-generation policy approaches that aim to leverage trends in mothers education to reduce inequality for future generations.




Augustine, J. M. (2017). Increased educational attainment among U.S. mothers and their children’s academic expectations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 52, 15–25.

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