Does Parental Education Determine a Child's Non-Cognitive Skills? Evidence from a Schooling Reform

Tuesday, June 25, 2019: 10:00 AM
Jackson - Mezzanine Level (Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)

Presenter: Alex Turner

Co-Author: Rose Atkins

Discussant: Maripier Isabelle

Non-cognitive skills are increasingly recognized as important predictors of health and health behaviours. Their determinants, however, are much less understood. This paper investigates the impact of parental education on non-cognitive skills in childhood. We use parent and teacher-reported data from the National Child Development Study (NCDS) to create aggregate measures of conscientiousness, agreeableness and neuroticism. All cohort members were born in 1958, and the non-cognitive skills measures were taken in 1974 when the child was 16. To identify a causal effect, we exploit exogenous variation in parental education induced by a schooling reform which increased the minimum school leaving age from 14 to 15 years in England and Wales, in April 1947. We find that this reform increased the average years of schooling by 6.2-6.9 months for mothers and 3.6-4.5 months for fathers. We utilize an instrumental variables framework, in which dummy variables indicating whether parents were impacted by the reform were used as instruments for parental education. We find that increased maternal education has no effect on agreeableness or neuroticism. However, we find evidence that mothers’ education positively impacts conscientiousness. A one-year increase in mothers’ education increases a child’s conscientiousness by 0.32-0.45 standard deviations. Further analysis of different facets suggests that it is the rigidity of the child that drives this effect (0.40-0.83 standard deviations). Although paternal education had no effect on our aggregated non-cognitive skills measures, when analyzing the individual agreeableness facets we find evidence that fathers’ education has a positive effect on a child’s obedience (0.50-1.30 standard deviations) but a negative effect on the extent to which a child does not fight (0.47-0.67 standard deviations). These opposing causal effects may be explained by the positive impact of an extra year in education coupled with the negative impact of the fathers’ delayed entrance into the labour market. These results suggest that parental education plays an important role in shaping a child’s non-cognitive skills. This study builds on the evidence on the importance of policy that impacts the lower end of the education distribution.

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