Parents' beliefs about the time and financial resource they allocate to their children

25 July 2018

Parents consider that spending money on learning resources such as books, educational games and private tuition for their children is more productive if the child attends a higher quality school, according to research led by UCL and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The amount of time and financial resources which parents allocate towards their children varies considerably across families. Differences in available resources might explain a substantial part of this variation. However, parents' beliefs about these investments are also likely to play a crucial role in their decisions. 

The study found that parents believe that if their child attends a higher quality school, they would benefit more from material investments made by their parents, having a higher earning potential at age 30.

Other findings from the study show that while parents believe that school quality matters, they also believe that parental home inputs play a very important role. In fact, they believe that an additional 3 hours per week in terms of time investments or an additional £30 per week in terms of material investments matter more than moving a child from a school which ‘requires improvement’ to a school which is ‘outstanding’.

Generally, parents believe that there is more to be gained in investing more time and money in supporting their children at home, rather than moving them to a better school. But school quality matters more to parents as the child gets older.

Co-author Dr Teodora Boneva said: “Given that children from wealthier backgrounds are also more likely to attend better schools, the relationship parents perceive between school quality and material investments might contribute to the low social mobility in England.“

It has been widely documented that parental investments are highly predictive of important life outcomes such as educational attainment, earnings and heath. However, time and financial resources which parents allocate towards their children vary considerably across families.

“The fact that some parents invest less in their children than others is not necessarily a consequence of having less time or money. Differences are also likely to be driven by differences in parental beliefs about the returns to parental investments. The results of our study are important as they help us to identify bottlenecks which prevent parents from investing in their children” add Dr Boneva.

The study used data from a novel representative survey of nearly 2,000 parents in England with at least one child aged 5-16 years living with them at home.

Parents were provided with different hypothetical scenarios. The participants were asked to picture a child in different home and school circumstance, ranging from schools with Ofsted ratings from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’. Next, the researchers varied the amount of time and material investments children received from their parents, and asked respondents to predict how much these children will earn as adults.

The researchers believe that the findings could contribute towards understanding how to encourage parents to invest more into their children. 

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Attanasio, O., Boneva, T., Rauh, C. ‘Parental Beliefs about Returns to Different Types of Investments in School Children’, HCEO Working Paper 2018-032, May 2018