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Parents' health may be influenced by their kids' level of education

Researchers say parents' mental health takes the biggest hit when their children don’t complete college

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Photo (c) Thomas Barwick - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Buffalo explored how childrens’ education status may influence their parents’ physical and mental health outcomes over time. 

According to their findings, parents are likely to experience more struggles with physical and mental health when their children don’t graduate college; however, the opposite was also true -- college graduates were more likely to have parents who had better health outcomes. 

“These results are particularly important in light of growing educational inequalities in the U.S. in the last several decades,” said researcher Kristen Schultz Lee, Ph.D. “We know how our own education impacts our own health; we know how parents’ education impacts their children in many different ways; now we’re trying to add to that understanding by explaining how children’s education can have an impact on their parents.” 

How education impacts health outcomes

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from two different waves of participants enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The two datasets allowed the researchers to gain insight into how children’s educational outcomes impacted their parents’ health long term. 

The researchers ultimately learned that it’s likely for parents to gain physical and mental health benefits when their children graduate college. This was true based on both the participants’ medical records and their own self-reports of their health status. Conversely, parents had poorer health outcomes when their children didn’t graduate from college. The study findings showed that parent’s mental health took the biggest hit when this happened.

“Parents whose children have lower levels of education might spend more time worrying about their children,” Dr. Lee said. “That has negative implications for their mental health and their self-rated health. Kids without a degree might need more help from their parents and are also less able to provide if needed in return.” 

The researchers also learned that parents who didn’t finish college were likely to gain the most when their children graduated college. While many factors come into play, the team speculates that college graduates are likely to be stricter about having their parents adhere to healthier diets and regular exercise routines. 

Though many consumers may question if college is right for them, the researchers hope that these findings offer another perspective about pursuing higher education. 

“In this era when a college degree is of ever-growing importance, we see how the long-term investment in education is advantageous to the adult child’s health, but also has benefits down the road for parents too,” said researcher Christopher Dennison, Ph.D.

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