Scholarship on the intergenerational transmission of advantage has consistently documented a connection between parents'education and their children's academic skills and outcomes. In this tradition, more recent research has emphasized the contribution of parents'education to children's health. This project integrates and advances both strands of this scholarship. It does so by examining whether increases in the post-childbearing education of mothers from disadvantaged segments of the population (i.e., women with low-income/low-levels of education) can improve the health and health-related outcomes (i.e., child competencies that forecast health in adulthood, such as cognition or psychosocial functioning) of their children. This research question reflects a recent demographic phenomenon, the reentry of disadvantaged women with children in the U.S. into the system of higher education. Yet little is known about whether the additional schooling of such women, who are different from mothers that completed their education pre-fertility, improves the wellbeing of their children. As such, the value of current and future policies that support the adult education of disadvantaged mothers-a widely discussed approach to limiting inequality in the next generation-are also unclear. To answer this policy-relevant question, the current project pursues three aims that are designed to tease out factors that may threaten to the validity (e.g., selectio bias) and generalizability (e.g., variability by mothers'race/ethnicity) of the study's findings, nd their power to inform policy.
The first aim i s to describe the life course characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, marital history) of mothers who return to school and the extent to which different patterns of continuing education (e.g., completed degrees) vary by mothers'characteristics. The second is to determine if additional post-fertility education (in years and degrees) is positively associated with children's health and health-related outcomes, while assessing whether mothers'school reentry has negative implications for children's wellbeing in the short-term.
The third aim i s to identify the mechanisms (e.g., maternal labor force outcomes, parenting behaviors) linking mothers'additional schooling and children's long-term outcomes and assess the robustness of these linkages across different demographic groups (e.g., defined by race/ethnicity).
These aims will be accomplished by drawing on two complimentary sources of national longitudinal data, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, and a combination of demographic (life table analyses and hazard models in Aim 1), econometric (instrumental variables and fixed effects approaches in Aim 2), and path analysis techniques (tests of mediation, multi-group modeling in Aim 3). The findings from this project aspire to provide causally robust conclusions about the links between mothers'post-fertility schooling and children's outcomes in ways that inform policies that span generations and connect public and academic debates in education and population health.
This project will provide knowledge of whether increases in the education of mothers from disadvantaged segments of the U.S. population can improve the health and wellbeing of their children. As such, this project evaluates a novel and increasingly discussed approach to policy for improving the health and wellbeing of the population-investing in the adult education of low-income women with children-that reflects the growing number of low-income and less educated women with children in the U.S. educational system and answers the call of the public health community to bridge health policy with education policy. To accomplish these goals, this project will draw on two sources of nationally representative data and statistical techniques that allow for robust causal inferences.