National Post

Page URL:

Saturday, April 03, 1999

Parents' Education determines Children's: Statscan study
Socio-economic background still a factor, study says

Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

The children of university-educated parents are three-and-a-half times more likely to attend university than children whose parents have only completed high school, a new study shows.

While sociologists have long believed that socio-economic background affects the likeliness of seeking higher education, the Statistics Canada study, Determinants of Postsecondary Participation, has found that parents' education also creates a divide between children who otherwise have the same grades in high school, work the same number of hours at part-time jobs, and have the same level of high school math and reading skills.

"We used to be able to explain away the differences by saying that children of more highly educated parents had better grades in school, but this study controls for those kinds of effects," says George Butlin, a senior research analyst at Statistics Canada. "It shows that the education of parents is still extremely important, everything else being equal," he said.

The study looked at 18,000 Canadians aged 18 to 20 who were in high school in 1991, and followed up on their lives in 1995.

Nearly 70% of high school graduates with at least one university-educated parent attended university in 1995, compared to 43% of those students whose parents attended vocational training or technical college.

The study also found that 44% of high school graduates from two-parent families were likely to attend university compared to 35% of students from single-parent families, but family structure did not affect the odds of a student attending other kinds of post-secondary education, such as community college or vocational school.

"Socio-economic background has always been an important factor and it still is," says Mr. Butlin, who says that more research is needed into why education of parents has such a strong effect, even as other demographic variables fade in importance.

Anglophones historically have had higher participation rates than francophones, for example, but over the past 25 years, the rates have more or less converged. And although men have always had higher participation rates in university education, this trend has actually reversed in recent years.

Mr. Butlin speculates that parents who are university educated pass on higher expectations, or act as role models to their children.

He says the issue of access to higher learning is increasingly important: It is estimated that nearly half of new jobs in Canada created in the next decade will require a minimum of 17 years of education.

Copyright Southam Inc.