Educating parents may save kids’ lives

Children whose mothers lack a college education are significantly more likely to die young, particularly from unintentional injuries.


In a new study, scientists examined the link between several dimensions of parental socioeconomic status (SES) and all-cause and cause-specific mortality among children and youth (ages 1–24) in the United States. They found that children whose moms lack a college education are essentially more likely to die young, especially from unintentional injuries.

Moreover, the study also found that children who grow up in single-parent households live close or beneath the poverty line or whose father didn’t complete high school are at more serious danger of biting the dust between ages 1 and 24.

Scientists examined survey data from 377,252 U.S. children from 1998 to 2015 to determine who died before the age of 24 and how, as well as the income and educational status of their parents and their family structure.

Professor Richard Rogers of CU Boulder’s Department of Sociology said, “When we think about educational or socioeconomic inequality in the United States, we often think about it in terms of how it impacts adults. But our research suggests that inequality can translate into real differences in child survival.”

While rates of childhood mortality have declined in the past 40 years since the last study of this sort was done, the new research found that the fates of offspring of the rich and highly educated remain obviously different than those of poor people and less educated.

In all, the study found, 15 percent of children live with a mother who did not complete high school, 12 percent live with a father who did not complete high school, 25 percent live in households where the father isn’t present (mom is absent in 6 percent) and 42 percent live near or below the poverty line. Only 25 percent of the children in the dataset lived with a college-educated mother, and 23 percent lived with a college-educated father.

Braudt said, “All these factors independently influence a child’s chance of making it to adulthood. For instance, compared to children of college-educated mothers, those living with mothers who attended but didn’t graduate from college, finished high school or never graduated from high school are 28, 37, or 40 percent more likely, respectively, to die young.”

“Children whose fathers didn’t graduate from high school are 41 percent more likely to die in their youth than those of college-educated dads.”

Rogers said, “Children living with the most highly educated parents are now supported by more economic and parental time resources than ever before, while children living with the least educated parents lag further behind their counterparts than they did in the 1970s.”

The researchers note that higher income can equate to safer homes and neighborhoods for kids to play and ride their bikes in, and higher levels of education can empower parents to advocate for their children in the doctor’s office, assuring they get good care.

As income and educational inequality widen in the United States and policymakers grapple with proposals to support single or low-income parents and make college more affordable, the authors hope their findings will inform the discussions.

Rogers said, “Social programs are important in and of themselves, but it may be that they have more impact on society than we realize. If you help out the parents, it could save children’s lives.”

The study is published in the Maternal and Child Health.


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