New study on “The Intergenerational Transmission of Teaching” about how teaching can run in the family.

It’s something I often ask my students: who’s father or mother are teachers themselves? Often a majority raises their hands. This new study by Jacintho and Gershenson published in the American Educational Research Journal seems to confirm this trend.

Examining the data taken from the American National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) 1979 and Child and Young Adult supplement (CYA), the researchers find shows that children of teachers are seven percentage points more likely than the children of non-teachers to enter teaching. This relationship is strongly statistically significant (p < .01).

More in detail:

Nationally representative data from the NLSY-79 cohort shows that the children of teachers were seven percentage points (88%) more likely to become teachers than the children of nonteachers. This result is robust to a number of modeling and coding choices and is unlikely to be entirely driven by unobserved factors that jointly determine mothers’ and children’s entry into teaching. The magnitude of this point estimate is similar to that of other predictors of entry into teaching. For example, the current study finds that when the mother holds a college degree, children are about five percentage points more likely to enter teaching. Similar point estimates of 0.05 and 0.08 are found for being in the bottom versus top quartile of college entrance exam scores and having a college GPA above 3.75 versus a GPA below 2.75, respectively (Henke et al., 2000).

The transmission of teaching from mother to child is 50% larger for daughters than sons, but this difference is imprecisely estimated and masks important racial variation in the transmission of teaching: The transmission rate is about the same for White sons, White daughters, and Black daughters. However, there is essentially zero transmission of teaching from Black mothers to their sons, while the transmission from Hispanic mothers to their daughters is even stronger than that seen for White children and Black daughters.

These findings corroborate qualitative work by Schutz et al. (2001) who found that around 10% of preservice teachers cited encouragement from parents or family members in their decision to become a teacher. And while parents’ occupation does not fully explain entry into teaching (the regression R2 = 0.08) it does shed light on one novel determinant.

Do bear in mind this limitation:

The data cover the children of one cohort of mothers who were young adults in 1979, which limits our ability to generalize these results to more recent cohorts who came of age facing a different labor market, economy, and K–12 policy landscape. 

Abstract of the study:

Parental influences, particularly parents’ occupations, may influence individuals’ entry into the teaching profession. This mechanism may contribute to the relatively static demographic composition of the teaching force over time. We assess the role of parental influences on occupational choice by testing whether the children of teachers are disproportionately likely to become teachers themselves and whether the intergenerational transmission of teaching varies by race or sex. Overall, children whose mothers are teachers are seven percentage points more likely to enter teaching than children of nonteachers. The transmission of teaching from mother to child is about the same for White children and for Black daughters; however, transmission rates for Hispanic daughters are even larger while those for Black sons are near zero.

One thought on “New study on “The Intergenerational Transmission of Teaching” about how teaching can run in the family.

  1. Very interesting. I am a Certified Teacher (and an engineer) and my sister is a university professor (and a doctor). Now that I think of it, our mother is a retired college professor. Our paternal great-grandmother was a school teacher and great-grandfather was a priest, and their daughter (our grandfather’s sister) was a teacher, and so was their granddaughter, our aunt. It seems that even though my sister and I have professional degrees, we have inherited a drive to teach, from both maternal and parental side, going back to the 19th century.

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