Article

Which family factors affect children’s development at school?

Diederik Boertien, Centre for Demographic Studies, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Over the last two decades Spanish families have undergone fast-moving changes. There are now fewer children living in the same household as both of their biological parents. Using data from the Population Census of 2011, this article analyses to what point family structure influences children’s school performance and what importance this factor has in comparison with others such as the mother’s educational attainment level and economic resources.
Key points
  • 1
       According to the Population Census of 1991 nearly 90% of children aged under16 lived with both of their parents in the same house. Today, that family structure is no longer as common. Data from the most recent Census indicate that in 2011 around a quarter of children aged 16 were not living in the same household as their biological mother and father.
  • 2
       In recent decades, families with a low level of educational attainment have undergone greater change than those with a higher level. By 2011, nearly 40% of children with a mother without primary education were not living with their biological father, versus 17% of those whose mother had a university qualification.
  • 3
       Children living in single-parent homes have a slightly lower probability of completing Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO) on time.
  • 4
       The influence of family structure is very small in comparison with the effects of the mother’s level of educational attainment and of the differences in economic resources between families.
  • 5
       Given the importance of socioeconomic factors, policies aimed at preventing children from falling behind at school will have higher chances of success if geared towards reducing socioeconomic differences between households.

This graphic indicates what percentage of children born in 1995 did not complete ESO on time in each of the groups shown. In the first group it can be seen that the influence of family structure is only 5%. In contrast, in the second group, it can be seen that depending on housing status, the difference increases by 17%.  Finally, if compared by the mother’s level of education, the difference is even more pronounced, increasing to 29%.

From this perspective, it becomes clear that factors such as the mother’s level of educational attainment are much more important for children’s school performance than the number of parents living with them.

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