How Does the Socioeconomic Status of Parents Affect Learning?

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Your parents affect many things in your life, from your genetic inheritance to your daily habits. Their education can affect their socioeconomic status, and their socioeconomic status can affect both your overall educational attainments and how well you learn. Some of those effects can exist up to 40 years later, according to a July 2009 article in the “Merrill Palmer Quarterly” from Wayne State University.

Daily Challenges

Children in poverty confront daily challenges that affect their ability to learn, according to Eric Jensen, a teacher and expert in neuroscience, as well as the author of “Teaching with Poverty in Mind.” Jensen notes that children from low socioeconomic status homes must deal with emotional and social challenges, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags and health and safety issues. These result from such factors as poor parental attachment, parental depression, inadequate health care, chaotic and unsafe environments, and caregivers who are overworked, stressed or use harsh disciplinary measures. Parents may be physically unavailable as they work long hours and children are more likely to be left to fend for themselves.

Cycle of Poverty

Socioeconomic status, typically abbreviated as SES, generally includes education, occupation and income, according to the American Psychological Association, and is a measure of social standing. Low SES is generally correlated to lower education, poverty and poor health. The APA notes that children who live in a low SES community, or who grow up in families that have low SES, are not as quick to learn academic skills. A low-literacy home environment and chronic stress, as well as schools with inadequate resources -- all typical in low-SES communities -- affect life-long academic achievement and can perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

High School Drop-Out Rate

Parents in a low-SES situation often do not have the finical resources to provide books, computers or other learning tools to their children. They may not have the time to read to them or know how to provide support with homework. As a result, the APA notes that students from low-SES schools are as much as three grade levels behind their more economically advantaged peers by the time they enter high school. The high school drop-out rate in 2007 for 16-to-20-year-olds was more than three times higher for children in low-income families when compared to the drop-out rate for children from middle- or high-income families.

Long-Term Outcomes

Parents’ educational attainments are often related to the socioeconomic status of the family. However, the parents' education in and of itself affected the long-term educational and occupational outcomes of their children, according to the “Merrill Palmer Quarterly.” Researchers interviewed third graders and their parents to collect data on SES and parental educational attainments. Participants were interviewed again when the children were 19, 30 and 48 years old. The educational level of parents when children were 8 years old predicted the child’s educational and occupational success at the age of 48. Even in a low-SES setting, parents who had high educational attainments were more likely to have children who also achieved more educationally, which gave the children more occupational options.