Theses Doctoral

Maternal Education, Home Environment, and Educational Aspirations: the Relationship With Children’s Math Skills

Burns, Patricia M.

This study examined the relationship between maternal education, the home environment, educational expectations and children’s math skills. The aim of this research was to determine how well these measures individually and collectively explained the variation in children’s mathematical achievement at the start of kindergarten. This analysis was done within the context of the unique biological mother-child relationship, how frequently they engaged with their children in shared activities at home, the warmth of their relationship with their children, their perspectives on parenting, and finally their aspirations for their children’s educational attainment.

Relying on a large, nationally representative sample of 10,863 biological mothers and their children, this study found a persistent and moderate association between maternal education and children’s mathematical skills, even after adjusting for both the home environment and educational expectations measures, and several other select maternal, child, and family characteristics.

The home environment, measured by maternal self-reports of the frequency of engagement in eight pre-selected activities and by maternal self-ratings of the warmth of the relationship with their children, was addressed using Principal Component Analysis. The findings in this area were mixed. A higher self-reported frequency of time spent playing games, talking about nature, playing with construction toys, and helping with arts and crafts was positively linked to children’s early math achievement. The frequency of shared book reading, storytelling, and working with numbers was negatively linked to children’s mathematical achievement. Both of these effect sizes were statistically significant, yet quite small. No relationship was found between maternal warmth and children’s mathematical skills or between parenting perspectives and children’s math achievement.

The findings also demonstrated a small, positive association between maternal expectations and children’s mathematical achievement. Children whose mothers believed they would graduate from college or beyond had stronger math skills than those whose mothers expected them to experience some college. This finding was more pronounced among mothers from different cultural backgrounds.

The continued significance of both the maternal education and maternal expectations effects helped to explain some of the variation in children’s math achievement and contributed to the important research aimed at reducing these gaps early in children’s formative education.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Interdisciplinary Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Furlonge, Nicole Leta Brittingham
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2020