Children in rural areas less affected by parental background

June 13, 2014 - 06:14

Parents' educational levels are important for children's grades and educational choices. But in rural Norway it seems to mean less.

The data consists of a survey that was conducted among 170 tenth graders in two Norwegian municipalities, one of them Etne. (Foto: Stig Tronvold, Samfoto)

Children whose parents have reached higher levels of education often get better grades and often choose academic careers. This has been established by research.

But when Kristian Heggebø studied adolescents in two districts in Western Norway for his master's thesis, he did not find this link.

“It appears that parental education is less critical to academic achievement in rural Norway. Especially when we control for the amount of time young people spend on video games and homework”, he explains. 

Gaming is correlated with poorer grades

Heggebø’s data consists of a survey that was conducted among 170 tenth graders in the municipalities of Etne and Vindafjord, along with information about the grades they received in school.

Most of the boys Heggebø studied spent a lot of time playing computer games. This was independent of the parents' educational background.

There was a robust negative relationship between grades and time spent on games.

Differences between boys and girls

Recent Norwegian studies show that there are relatively large gender differences when it comes to grades. Girls do better, except in physical education.

Girls also tend to choose academic programs in secondary school, more so than the difference in grades would predict.

Heggebø found that this held up in both of the municipalities he studied. According to his data, only the girls are affected by parental education.

Most of the boys Heggebø studied spent a lot of time playing computer games. (Photo: Colourbox)

Boys with educated parents do not tend to choose an academic program, compared to other boys with similar grades.

After controlling for time spent on homework and computer games, there are no significant gender differences in self-confidence, according to Heggebø. This may be a key to understanding the performance differences between girls and boys, he said.

Deferred gratification

Heggebø would like to find an explanation for the fact that the educational choices of boys are less affected by parental education.

He does not believe that playing computer games in itself has a negative effect on grades. But it may indicate problems with deferring gratification.

In educational sociology, the researcher claims, there may have been an excessive focus on parental educational background.

“In my study, done in a rural context, it seems that other factors have a greater impact on the choice of study program. In a rural community some pupils may choose a vocational rather than academic program because they want to be close to family, friends and community”, Heggebø says.

This may particularly important for the boys, because in rural areas relatively few of the traditional male occupations require higher education.

“For many, moving away from home can be a huge social cost. Therefore, they do not choose the path that leads toward higher education”, Heggebø believes.

In and around the municipalities of Etne and Vindafjord, the occupational structure is dominated by unskilled work in primary industries and manufacturing, in addition to the nursing and caring professions.

Having parents involved in school life had a positive impact on grade level. The same went for having parents who read books. (Photo: Colourbox)

This means that more jobs require girls to attain higher levels of education – if they choose gender - traditional occupations, he says.

Parental involvement

Family background is by no means insignificant for academic performance, the study shows.

Having parents involved in school life had a positive impact on grade level. The same went for having parents who read books.

“The analysis indicates being involved, and reading books, may mean more than having higher educations when it comes to the achievement level of the children.”

More studies are needed

Heggebø currently works as a research fellow at the Oslo and Akershus University College. The study is based on his master's thesis from 2012.

“The statistical relationships are robust, but the data size is small. Therefore, it is difficult to draw conclusions. The data is a cross-section, and thus I cannot say anything about causality. That would take more research. Following the same students over time would be particularly interesting”, Heggebø says.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Lars Nygaard

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