The Family Demography Of Higher Education
Patterns of educational attainment in the United States have changed over the 20th century, with a significant increase in the value of and demand for college education since the 1980s. Simultaneously, the size of families shrank and the proportion of youth living in two-parent "traditional" households decreased, leading to a proliferation of new family forms. Social scientists have long investigated the relationship between family structure and educational attainment. This dissertation contributes to prior research on families and education by examining the relationship between family structure and enrollment in and completion of 4-year college. The first chapter of the dissertation analyzes two panels of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) to determine whether the relationship between family size and higher educational attainment changed between the birth cohort completing high school in the early 1980s and the one completing high school in the late 1990s. It also examines whether family income plays a role in determining whether family size impacts higher educational attainment. The second chapter analyzes the later panel of the NLSY to evaluate competing explanations for the negative relationship between family size and educational attainment. Additionally, it examines whether the relationship varies by youths' race/ethnicity. The final chapter presents a measure of family structure that combines the number of family transitions a youth has experienced and a qualitative measure of family type. It then uses propensity score models to examine whether the negative relationship between non-traditional family structures and higher educational attainment is causal in the later panel of the NLSY. The first chapter finds that there is a negative relationship between family size and higher educational attainment among both birth cohorts. However, it finds that the relationship is concentrated among higher income families in the early panel and lower income families in the later panel. This shift over time is likely due to large changes in higher education aid policies such as the introduction of unsubsidized Stafford loans in 1993. The second chapter finds little support for three explanations claiming that the relationship between family size and higher education is not causal or for the claim that the relationship operates via decreased intellectual ability. It also finds that there is variation in the relationship between family size and higher education by race/ethnicity, with no detectable relationship for Hispanic youth. The final chapter finds that there is a significant causal relationship between being raised in a non-traditional family structure and higher education. Additionally, it finds that the strength of the relationship varies by the likelihood of having a non-traditional family, with the effects concentrated among those who are least likely to have one. This may indicate that communities in which non-traditional families are common provide resources that moderate the impact of non-traditional family structures on educational attainment.
Demography; Family; Higher Education
Heckathorn, Douglas D.Morgan, Stephen L.
Morgan, Stephen L.; Weeden, Kim; Heckathorn, Douglas D.; Weeden, Kim; Lichter, Daniel T.
Ph. D., Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis