To Get Your Kids Ahead In Life, Get A College Degree

We like to think of the United States as the type of place where anyone with a strong work ethic and healthy dose of ambition can make it to the top.

A better predictor seems to be whether Mom and Dad have a college degree.

Researchers from the Russell Sage Foundation and the Pew Economic Mobility Project have found that American kids are much more likely to succeed if their parents are more educated.

What’s more, the relationship between your parents’ education level and your future success is higher in the United States than in any other countries they looked at, including Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Canada.

Erin Currier, project manager for Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, said that when polled, Americans say that hard work and ambition are the factors that get you ahead in life. They also believe things like parental background aren’t as important.

“All of our data shows the opposite,” Currier said. “It shows the power of family background for really predicting where in the income (distribution) you would fall.”

Currier said the group looked at parents’ education levels because people with more education tend to make more money and have other advantages. They saw it as a good proxy for socioeconomic status.

The opportunities to help kids get ahead start very early, with access to programs such as pre-kindergarten. Currier said the other countries in the study, which showed less correlation between parents’ education and kids’ success, have been more likely to offer broad support for those kinds of programs.

The United States also supports low-income families with programs like Head Start, and Currier said she sees this data as evidence that those programs can help less advantaged kids get ahead.

But the study also shows that the house you are born in – or at least the degree hanging on the wall – makes a difference from birth.

“It’s important even before pre-kindergarten,” she said. “Prenatally, we know there are advantages.”

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  • by william Location: greenville on Nov 21, 2011 at 04:23 AM
    There are many roads to success. A college degree is one of them -- if you can afford the ever-increasing costs, and if you know why you are going. The good old liberal arts degree which does not produce a specific skill set doesn't cut it any more in the job market - if it ever did.
    • reply
      by uh on Nov 21, 2011 at 10:55 AM in reply to william
      The research says that it does cut it, compared to having no degree.
  • by WB on Nov 19, 2011 at 11:50 AM
    So many people don't even understand what Work Ethics is. Most people think that work hard when they stand around and socialize and not take care of the customer. I was raised that if you worked hard from the point you clocked in to the time you clocked out even to the point of sweating up a breeze, you would get rewarded for it. However, that is not the case of today.
  • by Taxpayer2 Location: ENMC on Nov 19, 2011 at 11:12 AM
    You hit it this time, Barlow. good job. The next bubble is the costs of college. I went to ECU, 4 years in & out. And prepared for employment. Now, its 5 to 6 years, The underclassmen taking the courses they didn't learn in high school and their dropout rate is aweful. It also raises the overall costs for all students. Major course studies have been bloated with subjects/courses that hardly apply to the student's Major but it keeps tenured Profs employed and students in school longer. Priorties have been skewed. The multimillion dollar 'Beach' at ECU is a good example. The schools have a responsibility to educate the naive student that wants a degree in "Pre Dark Ages Cave Dweller Family Relations" for example that jobs in the real world do not exist. Enough of my rant..
    • reply
      by MM on Nov 19, 2011 at 08:08 PM in reply to Taxpayer2
      Retention and time to degree is as good as it ever was at ECU and probably better. Also, ECU ranks about sixth in the UNC system on these two indicators (out of 16) so I think that is pretty good. I believe UNC, NC State, UNC-Wilmington, Appalachian State and the School of the Arts are ahead of ECU, but according to grades and SAT they have stronger students coming in. You are right, Taxpayer2, that these and a relevant degree are the most important things, but ECU is actually doing pretty good in all of these areas. By the way, I don't work for them! I just send them my paycheck.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 19, 2011 at 10:42 AM
    Unless you go get a trade or skill at a college which is rare you don't have anything. Most busineses today run on family members, or friends. They don't pick someone because of college. My parents didn't go to college and they are well off. I am going to college because I want to keep on learning. No job at the end of this because there is no where to work around here. SO there. Its a waste of my time I know it.
    • reply
      by uh on Nov 20, 2011 at 08:02 PM in reply to
      Yes- and what this article and its supporting research are saying, is that you're wrong.
  • by Smh Location: Gville on Nov 19, 2011 at 08:38 AM
    I agree with all the previous post. College degree? Ha? I have two! Still can't get a job! Stuck with huge college loans. My husband has a hs diploma, and makes more money than I ever did, when I was working. Neither one of my parents had degrees, my father made a good salary, my mother never worked. That's what's missing, that good family foundation. I know the majority of families, both parents have to work,and most are still just above water.
    • reply
      by It's true on Nov 19, 2011 at 01:09 PM in reply to Smh
      You're dissing education because of your own anecdotal evidence. Statistics still show that the majority of people are much better off financially with a college degree. Furthermore, marriages tend to last longer and college graduates tend to be healthier in the long run. For every family you know that is struggling, I know people with college degrees who are doing quite well. It's very possible that if you lived in another area where there is more opportunity that you would have a well-paying job. I wouldn't judge the economy or the value of education by what's available in eastern NC.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Nov 19, 2011 at 08:07 AM
    An education has helped me move up from my father's working class roots to middle class. Because of the cost of a college education now, that same opportunity is no longer available for my children and millions of others. Republicans continue to try to gut our public education system and reduce the availability of Pell grants and other help for low and middle class kids. Many of the occupy wall street people are kids that have graduated from college with incredible debt because student loans were provided by the big private banks at high interest, rather than the traditional low interest government loans I was able to get when I went to school. At least the Obama administration reversed this policy and government loans are available again. College has become another privilege for the rich only.
    • reply
      by MM on Nov 19, 2011 at 08:51 AM in reply to Barlow
      The same is true for me. I graduated with $6,000 in student loan debt and could afford to pay it off over time. Your comment reminds me of the letter writer in the N&O who trivialized the 40 percent tuition increase at UNC as similar to a cell phone contract. A $2,800 increase over five years amounts to more than $10,000 over the course of a degree and that is significant money. The General Assembly decided to cut $400 million out of higher ed this year and the money has to be made up somewhere. Unfortunately, a goodly portion is coming out of the pocketbooks of parents and students who can ill-afford it. Higher education is important to our economy and society as a whole, not just the individual who recieves the direct benefit. I don't understand these attacks on education. They are very short sighted.
  • by Old Timer on Nov 19, 2011 at 07:00 AM
    I could have told you this without millions spent on research. You might think it's minimally important, but great parents (whether educated or not) are the foundation of a happy, well adjusted individual. People that can adapt are more likely to flourish in an unstable, unpredictable job market. General knowledge in a range of topics is more important than specializing in one or two fields.
    • reply
      by To Old Timer on Nov 19, 2011 at 12:34 PM in reply to Old Timer
      I agree, that great parents are the foundation of a happy, well adjusted individual; however, MOST that are reading I am surprised to learn appreciate the fact that OUR country has NO morals or values, just spend, spend, spend, government doesn't have to pay it back YOU do in TAXES. Oh thats right, many who have time to read this are already taken care of by the government with food, cell phones, and other privileges that working families CANNOT afford. THANK you REPUBLICANS for trying to stop all the spending.
  • by MM on Nov 19, 2011 at 06:55 AM
    Education is a great thing. It has value beyond the income it produces.
  • by Zzyzx Road Location: Pitt County on Nov 19, 2011 at 04:38 AM
    College degree? For what? Readin', writin', and revolution? And colleges and universities don't seem to do very well at the first two anyway. Get a skill at a trade school, go to work and forget the mind numbing rot and garbage they program into our kids at these "higher institutions of learning".
    • reply
      by Really? on Nov 19, 2011 at 11:30 AM in reply to Zzyzx Road
      You didn't go to university did you? College is not for everyone, but if there's a chance your child has the aptitude and discipline for college, you would do well to set him/her on that path. If you raise them to be discerning, they'll know how to tell knowledge from garbage, but they may not always agree with YOU about which is which. The statistics on unemployment in the present economy speaks VOLUMES about the value of a college degree.
  • by vedaortiz Location: ca on Nov 19, 2011 at 01:58 AM
    No College Degree? New data suggests jobs picture Is Bleak for those with out college degree, it is the reality get a degree from "High Speed Universities online
    • reply
      by Formerly Pirateman on Nov 19, 2011 at 05:42 AM in reply to vedaortiz
      Yeah, because the mill of college degrees is so much it is equal to a high school degree from years ago. Everyone needs to read Forbes magazine's report on how worthless college degrees are now. The article is called "10 ways to make your kid a millionaire".

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