Family origins and the schooling process: Early versus late influence of parental characteristics

  • Alwin D
  • Thornton A
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This paper explores the potential role of family socioeconomic factors in school achievement outcomes at two separate periods in the lifecourse-early in childhood and during late adolescence. Using data from an 18-year longitudinal study of families and their children which provides measures of parental socioeconomic characteristics across this entire period, we examine several issues related to the influence of early and late family factors on achievement outcomes assessed during the period of the completion of secondary schooling. We examine the extent to which differing conclusions are reached through the use of parental socioeconomic variables assessed during these two periods, and we explore the question of the relative impact of these two sets of influences. Our results indicate that, in part due to the intertemporal consistency of some socioeconomic variables, most relationships are quite similar using either the early or later variables. While these patterns make it very difficult in some instances to ascertain the relative effects of early and late socioeconomic factors, our analytic results point to a potentially stronger role of early socioeconomic factors in cognitive development and school learning. In a single instance-the case of family size-we find independent effects on school achievement from both early and late socioeconomic experiences.

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  • Duane F Alwin

  • Arland Thornton

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