A father’s level of education is the strongest factor determining a child’s future success at school, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of poverty and lack of achievement passed down from parents to children in Britain, according to research.
The report from the Office for National Statistics claims that children are seven and a half times less likely to be successful at school if their father failed to achieve, compared with children with highly educated fathers.
A mother’s education level was important to a lesser degree, with a child approximately three times as likely to have a low educational outcome if their mother had a low level of education.
The ONS research found that low levels of education are the most significant reason for the persistence of poverty in the UK, with those with a low level of educational attainment being almost five times as likely to be in poverty as those with a high level of education.
Helen Barnard, policy and research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said there was little evidence that the cycle of poverty and educational outcomes was caused by low aspirations among poor families.
“But there is evidence that children and parents from poorer backgrounds develop lower expectations as children grow older – they stop believing that their children will be able to achieve high ambitions, or do not know how to help them do so,” Barnard said.
Previous studies have observed the link between parent-child levels of education success, but the size of the father’s attainment level on a child’s education is more marked than most earlier research.
The data reinforces the ONS’s finding that British society has low levels of earnings mobility across generations, one of the findings of its report on intergenerational transmission of disadvantage in the UK and European Union.
Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust, said the ONS work was in line with his organisation’s own findings on weak social mobility in the UK, with mobility declining for those born in 1970 compared with those born in the 1950s.
“This report shows just how important education is in breaking that cycle of poverty across generations and ensuring that poor educational achievement is not transmitted from parent to child,” Ryan said.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said it was not surprising that the ONS had found a relationship between parents’ income and the future earnings of their children.
“What’s interesting about this report is where the UK parts company with other EU countries. Critically, it shows that growing up in a workless household has a much more significant impact on a child’s future earnings in the UK than in almost any other state,” Garnham said.
The ONS data showed that those who lived in a workless household at age 14 were around one and a half times as likely to be in poverty compared with those where one adult was working, and that the effect was more marked than elsewhere in Europe.
A report by Sir Michael Marmot’s Institute of Health Equity published this week found that children from more deprived areas were more likely than those from affluent families to fall short of developmental and educational milestones including having started to read, write and do simple sums.
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