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A detailed statistical analysis of 22,000 Norwegian children whose fathers died before they were 21 has shown that the longer a father was present in a child’s life, the more years of education the child attained by age 27. Across all children, the study found a correlation between the father’s level of education and the child’s educational attainment; this correlation was weaker if the father died early in the child’s life. These effects were greater for boys than for girls.
The children in the sample were all from families where the parents were married and had no children from a previous partnership. After the biological father died, no stepfather moved in.
The researchers looked at how many years of education siblings of different ages in these families attained by age 27 and used this measure to calculate how the amount of time the fathers were present in their children’s lives affected their educational attainment.
The study also measured whether children completed high school, their earnings at age 27, and whether they received various government welfare benefits before age 27.
The analysis showed that differences in educational attainment weren’t explained by a reduction in family wealth or an increase in mothers’ working hours after the fathers died. Rather, the simple presence of a father made a difference.
Ariel Kalil A, Mogstad M, Rege M & Votruba ME (2016), Father presence and the intergenerational transmission of educational attainment, The Journal of Human Resources, 51