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Journal Article

Family, gender, and educational attainment in Britain: a longitudinal study


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Two crucial measures of educational attainment in Britain are the General Certificate of Education (GCSE) and A-levels. There is concern about boys' underachievement, as girls out-perform boys, particularly at GCSE. This paper examines the complex ways families transmit (dis)advantage across the generations. We develop and test hypotheses about how family background, maternal employment, parenting practices, youth characteristics, and young people's gender-role attitudes and aspirations in early adolescence (age 11-15) differentially shape girls' and boys' later educational achievements (age 16-19). Using data from the nationally representative 1994-1999 British Household Panel Study, we confirm that better-off households and ' in tact' families enhance young people's odds of good educational attainment. However, the widely reported negative effects of mother's full-time employment are apparent only for success at GCSE, not A-level. Parenting practices, with the exception of good communication between young people and their mothers, have surprisingly little influence. The data support our hypotheses that adolescents' school plans strongly relate to later attainment for both boys and girls; whereas gender role attitudes and family formation plans are important for girls, but not for boys. In conclusion, we discuss the importance of gender in the intergenerational transmission of advantage.

Published in

Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Volume and page numbers

35 , 565 -589




Psychology, Young People, Education, and Sociology Of Households


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