, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 1271–1293 | Cite as

The Schooling of Offspring and the Survival of Parents

  • Esther M. Friedman
  • Robert D. Mare


Contemporary stratification research on developed societies usually views the intergenerational transmission of educational advantage as a one-way effect from parent to child. However, parents’ investment in their offspring’s schooling may yield significant returns for parents themselves in later life. For instance, well-educated offspring have greater knowledge of health and technology to share with their parents and more financial means to provide for them than do their less-educated counterparts. We use data from the 1992–2006 Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to examine whether adult offspring’s educational attainments are associated with parents’ survival in the United States. We show that adult offspring’s educational attainments have independent effects on their parents’ mortality, even after controlling for parents’ own socioeconomic resources. This relationship is more pronounced for deaths that are linked to behavioral factors: most notably, chronic lower respiratory disease and lung cancer. Furthermore, at least part of the association between offspring’s schooling and parents’ survival may be explained by parents’ health behaviors, including smoking and physical activity. These findings suggest that one way to influence the health of the elderly is through their offspring. To harness the full value of schooling for health, then, a family and multigenerational perspective is needed.


Education Mortality Intergenerational Survival analysis 



The authors thank the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program and the UCLA Interdisciplinary Relationship Science Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation for their financial support. The authors also benefited from facilities and resources provided by the California Center for Population Research at UCLA (CCPR), which receives core support (R24-HD041022) from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). We are grateful to Suzanne Bianchi, Jennie Brand, Arun Karlamangla, Kathleen McGarry, James Raymo, Teresa Seeman, Judith Seltzer, and Ken Smith for helpful advice as we developed the article. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2008 Research Committee 28 Conference on Social Stratification and Mobility (RC28), Florence, Italy; at the 2009 Population Association of America (PAA), Detroit, MI; and at the 2010 American Sociological Association (ASA), Atlanta, GA.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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