Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Do Parents' Social Activities Promote Children's School Attainments? Evidence from the German Socioeconomic Panel

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Do Parents' Social Activities Promote Children's School Attainments? Evidence from the German Socioeconomic Panel

Article excerpt

Felix Buchel Technical University of Berlin

Gerg J . Duncan Northwester University*

Using longitudinal data from the German Socioeconomic Panel, we investigate whether parental activities, such as attending cultural events, doing volunteer work, and socializing with friends, promote the educational attainments of children. These parental activities may constitute a beneficial form of social capital. On the other hand, they may reduce the amount of time parents spend with their children. We find significant linkages between a subset of fathers' activities and the attainments of children-especially boys-with positive effects for fathers' engaging in active sports and volunteer work, but negative effects for socializing with friends. Most of the effects of mothers ' activities can be accounted for by differences in the family 's socioeconomic status.

Key Words: fatherhood, parent time use, schooling achievement, social capital.

Most studies of the role that parenting plays in promoting child development have focused on the extent and nature of the time that parents spend with their children. Allocation of parent's time to market work is presumed important, as well, because it provides the economic resources on which most families depend and because time spent in the labor market may reduce the amount of time parents have to spend with their children.

Less well studied are the effects on children's attainments of parents' engagement in activities outside the home, including purely social activities, unpaid volunteer work, high-brow and popular cultural events. Collectively, adults' engagement in social and civic activities is seen as vital to the performance of government and other social institutions (Putnam, 1993, 1995). But these kinds of activities also may be important to the parents and children involved in them. They may enable parents to establish useful relationships with individuals and organizations outside the family. The social network literature (e.g., Cochran, Larner, Riley, Gunnarsson, & Henderson, 1990) speculates that these relationships supply parents with valuable social support or parental role models. Extrafamilial relationships also fall under the loosely defined rubric of social capital because they could supply children with valuable time or financial resources when needed. These relationships are capital to the extent that they are developed through the investment of time and money and constitute a stock of obligations that a family can draw on in time of need (Hofferth, Boisjoly, & Duncan, 1995).

Coleman's (1988) definition of social capital includes relationships within the family and outside of it. The quality of social capital within the family, especially parent-child relationships, is important to the healthy cognitive and emotional development of children and has been the subject of countless research articles. We focus on extrafamilial activities in which parents engage, and we seek to determine whether they help or hinder children's school attainments.

Our assessment of the links between parents' activities and children's attainments are based on data from Germany. As a highly developed, Western, capitalist society, Germany provides an important testing ground for theories of the effects of social forces on development that have been evaluated largely with data from the United States. However, there are a number of noteworthy ways in which the German context differs from that of the U.S.

First, many more German than U.S. families are the traditional two-parent, male-earner type. The percentage of single-parent families with children under the age of 18 in Germany stood at only 14% in 1989 (Vaskovics, Garhammer, Schneider, & Kabat vel Job, 1994). This not only allows more abundant observations on children raised in two-parent families, but also may provide a more general social context geared toward traditional families. …

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