Children with well-educated mothers, who live in a good environment, and are relatively stress-free are more likely to achieve their potential according to a new study from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).
While that may not sound so surprising, the next part of the report could have important implications for governments and policy-makers.
“A mother who invests in her children with time and gives them access to books and computers, can bridge the gap between income and potential,” says Dr Rasheda Khanam who led the study.
“For a long time there has been a consensus that there is a connection between family income and child health, child cognitive and non-cognitive development.But the mother’s outlook, how she raises her children, and the home environment she provides – reading with her children, taking them to the cinema, playground or sporting events, providing a clean, organised home – have not been included in previous studies.
“What we wanted to do was look at the pathways that make this connection between family income and child development to get the story behind this well-established link.”
Dr Khanam took a new approach, combining for the first time economists’ and psychologists’ views in modelling the relationship between income and child development outcomes.Dr Khanam said the conventional belief is that income was the most important determinant of good outcomes for children.
“Income is a factor. But we found that the level of family stress as exhibited by parenting styles and the capacity of a parent or parents to invest time in their children, can help bridge the gap.
Dr Khanam said it was the input and education standard of the mother that was found to be more significant than fathers in the study, as women were still the primary carers.But fathers were not completely discounted, as dads with “warm parenting styles” helped their children develop higher reasoning skills.
“If you have had a good education, you tend to have a good income, live in a better house in a good environment with lots of books for your children, and all in all, you will have more of an idea as to how to raise your children.”
“If you don’t have the income, but you invest the time, you can bridge the gap,” says Dr Khanam.
“It might be that what is needed are more systems in place to educate parents about parenting. Investment in parenting education might be just as effective for helping children as providing income support for their parent or parents.”
The study was based on cross-referencing data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and the 2011 Census.