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Association Between Parental Educational Attainment and Youth Outcomes and Role of Race/Ethnicity


The concept of minorities’ diminished returns refers to the smaller protective effects of educational attainment for racial and ethnic minority groups compared with those for majority groups.


To explore racial and ethnic differences in the associations between parental educational attainment and youth outcomes among US adolescents.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A cross-sectional study was performed of 10 619 youth aged 12 to 17 years who were participants at wave 1 of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, a nationally representative survey, in 2013. Data analysis was performed from August to October 2019.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The dependent variables were youth tobacco dependence, aggression, school performance, psychological distress, and chronic medical conditions. The independent variable was parental educational attainment. Age and sex of the adolescents and marital status of the parents were the covariates. Race and ethnicity were the moderating variables. Logistic regression was used for data analysis.


Among the participants, 5412 (51.0%) were aged 12 to 15 years, and 5207 (49.0%) were aged 16 to 17 years; 5480 (51.7%) were male. For non-Hispanic white youth, as parental educational attainment increased, there were stepwise reductions in the prevalence of tobacco dependence (13.2% vs 6.9% vs 2.7%), aggression (37.9% vs 34.8% vs 26.1%), low grade point average (84.2% vs 75.6% vs 53.3%), and chronic medical conditions (51.7% vs 50.8% vs 43.9%), but there was not such a trend for psychological distress (43.7% vs 48.6% vs 41.0%). Interactions were significant between Hispanic ethnicity and parental education on tobacco dependence (OR, 3.37 [95% CI, 2.00-5.69] for high school graduation; OR, 5.40 [95% CI, 2.52-11.56] for college graduation; P < .001 for both), aggression (OR, 1.41 [95% CI, 1.09-1.81]; P = .008 for high school graduation; OR, 1.59 [95% CI, 1.14-2.21]; P = .006 for college graduation), and psychological distress (OR, 1.50 [95% CI, 1.05-2.13]; P = .03). Black race showed an interaction with college graduation on poor school performance (OR, 2.00 [95% CI, 1.26-3.17]; P = .003) and chronic medical conditions (OR, 1.56 [95% CI, 1.14-2.14]; P = .005). All these findings suggest that the protective associations between high parental educational attainment and youth development might be systemically smaller for Hispanic and black youth than for non-Hispanic youth.

Conclusions and Relevance

Although high parental educational attainment is associated with better outcomes for youth, this association is systemically less significant for Hispanic and black than non-Hispanic white youth. The result is an increased health risk in youth from middle class black and Hispanic families. Given the systemic pattern for outcomes across domains, the diminishing returns of parental educational attainment may be due to upstream social processes that hinder ethnic minority families from translating their capital and human resources into health outcomes.


Source: JAMA Network (2019). Association Between Parental Educational Attainment and Youth Outcomes and Role of Race/Ethnicity.