Published: June 5, 2018

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2017-21


Rosemary Elkins and Stefanie Schurer.

Non-Technical Summary:

Recent research in economics has been increasingly concerned with the role that non-cognitive or socio-emotional abilities play in the development of human capital. This has led to a renewed interest in how such abilities are formed, and how effective interventions can be developed. One specific non-cognitive skill –internal locus of control (sometimes referred to as self-efficacy)– has been in the academic spotlight because it is a powerful predictor of a range of life outcomes. Locus of control describes a person’s belief about the control they possess over their life’s outcomes.

Using British cohort data, this study extends existing research on the lifelong patterns of development and early-life determinants of internal locus of control. We focus on the predictive role of parental interest in education (as reported by teachers) because of its policy relevance. Getting parents engaged with their children’s schooling has been the focus of many school reform programs, and considerable evidence points toward the positive relationship between parental involvement and school achievement outcomes.

We find that both mothers’ and fathers’ involvement in education are important predictors of internality in childhood, independent of a wide range of socio-economic, family structure, parental, and individual characteristics. However, only fathers’ involvement continues to predict internality into middle age, but only for women and socio-economically disadvantaged individuals. The magnitude of these effects is comparable to that of important socio-economic background factors and considerably larger than that of other parental behaviours. Importantly, father’s involvement in the education of the child boosts the probability of lifelong internality by 20 percent, and protects against lifelong externality.

These findings may be of considerable relevance to policy design. The well-founded relationship between parental school involvement and children’s educational success may be at least partially explained by its impact on children’s non-cognitive skill development. Both schooling and parenting inputs play an important and interactive role in children’s non-cognitive skill development. When parents are strongly engaged in their children’s education, children may have more effective school interactions, greater consistency between home and school, and higher quality support to get the most out of their education, learning that they have a greater capacity to control their educational and broader life outcomes. Through such processes, parental school involvement may boost the role that education plays in non-cognitive skill development.


December 4, 2017