Unemployed parent? How does that affect a teen’s school choices and achievements?

In the second Episode of Series 2 of our podcast looking at research emerging from the Equal Lives project, we talk to Jani Erola and Hannu Lehti from the University of Türku in Finland about their research, The heterogeneous effects of parental unemployment on siblings’ educational outcomes. They use high quality Finnish data and robust methods to see how having an unemployed parent affects how teenage children get on at school. They discuss their findings and what they might mean for those seeking to support the families of people out of work and to reduce inequalities over the life course.

Transcript

Unemployed parent? How does that affect a teen’s school choices and achievements?

In the second Episode of Series 2 of our podcast looking at research emerging from the Equal Lives project, we talk to Jani Erola and Hannu Lehti from the University of Türku in Finland about their research, The heterogeneous effects of parental unemployment on siblings’ educational outcomes. They use high quality Finnish data and robust methods to see how having an unemployed parent affects how teenage children get on at school. They discuss their findings and what they might mean for those seeking to support the families of people out of work and to reduce inequalities over the life course.

Christine Garrington  0:00 

Welcome to DIAL, a podcast where we tune into evidence on inequality over the lifecourse. In this series we discuss findings from DIAL’s Equal Lives project which is looking at how inequality impacts the lives of young adults. Our guest are Hannu Lehti and Jani Erola. They’ve been looking at what impact having an out of work parent might have on young people’s educational choices and achievements. I started by asking Jani, about how having an unemployed mom or dad might affect a young person.

Jani Erola  0:29  

Yeah, I think there are multiple ways, however, that can happen I mean I think the general thing is that of course, unemployment, often takes place, overlapping with other disadvantages happening in your life. So it’s not only the job loss, but of course natural economic loss, and also the loss of social connections and sense of security, I guess in life, and this is of course what we’re expecting to see here as well that they wouldn’t cumulative disadvantages, accruing in these families. Not only related to unemployment, but also other things. Then there’s of course assumption about how economic costs will influence families, that will be something that would be kind of influenced differently on kids from different family backgrounds, and of course it’s what we call kind of risk aversion effects when bad things happen, people start to overemphasise kind of the potential risks that might be involved in their lives, otherwise and that should also influence on on educational choices happening later on.

Christine Garrington  1:27  

Right, so how do you, what aspect of this did you want to look at specifically and why? Talk us through that.

Hannu Lehti  1:32

We wanted to study how for example, cumulative effects when children are young are they suffering more parental unemployment or is it like more relative when they are a little bit older than they are in their education transitions periods, are their parental unemployment affecting more? At that time, or is it just like economic effects that parents lose money when they are unemployed, and that affects children education.

Christine Garrington  2:01  

So how did you go about this then? What, what exactly did you do?

Hannu Lehti  2:05 

Because we followed children in their whole childhood, so we can test these ideas, and this point of childhood, they will suffer, or end up unemployment, most, so we use sibling fixed effects models, so we can compare siblings within families, and the other sibling is only exposed to parental unemployment, it was very good setup. So the other sibling is older and graduated already from the secondary or comprehensive school, so he or she didn’t experience parental unemployment during they are in the school. This allows us control and treatment group, so the other sibling is in control group, and the other in treatment who experienced parent or unemployment.

Jani Erola  2:53

And this is something that of course it’s, it requires that we have reliable data source, where we can really know when and time exactly when these events occur in the families, and also we need to have the same information for at least two siblings but preferably more and in our case, of course we have all the siblings in the same family. We were basically able to match exactly what they experienced parental unemployment. And also we were able to because of the data sources were also able to cover entire family incomes during during their entire childhood basically. So if they experienced more unemployment, they would probably have more higher income losses as well.

Christine Garrington  3:33  

And how did all that play out in the context of the Finnish education system.

Jani Erola  3:37  

In the Finnish case, whether you continue to secondary education. That choice is made, around the age of 14 or 15. If the other one is already age 15 that person wouldn’t, wouldn’t experience any of the negative effects. In a way, of parental unemployment and he or she is already beyond that point. And then, the younger one would be the kind of person who is kind of exposed to the parental unemployment or the negative effects of that.

Christine Garrington  4:02  

When you looked at the grade point averages of the youngsters, what did you find around the time that they went to secondary school?

Hannu Lehti  4:09

We found that parental unemployment is particularly disadvantage if it’s an experience at the end of the compulsory school, so the time children are moving to secondary school.

Christine Garrington  4:19  

Worth noting here that by secondary school in Finland remain roughly sort of the ages between 16 and 18.

Hannu Lehti  4:26  

Because parental unemployment had negative effect only at the end of the compulsory school. We did not observe any long term effects, which would indicate more like all the disadvantages of parental unemployment on GPA.

Christine Garrington  4:40  

And what about when they went off to college or university? What was the picture there?

Hannu Lehti  4:44  

So we found also when they went to college or university that unemployment means disadvantage for children at the end of the secondary school, and when they’re deciding, are they going to tertiary education. So, we found that parental unemployment has negative effect only if the parent is higher educated, so we didn’t find any effect when parents are lower educated.

Christine Garrington  5:07  

So it was interesting that where an unemployed parent was higher educated the child was less likely to enrol for university that sounds quite surprising so I want to ask you both, whether it surprised you so Jani, you first did it? Did it surprise you?

Jani Erola  5:24  

Personally not really I mean these are selective processes in general, you need to lose something in order to, there has to be something to be lost. And if your parents didn’t go really high education previously I mean, that’s kind of your baseline situation, whereas for the other families it is the opposite case. 

Hannu Lehti  5:41  

For me it was a little bit surprising maybe because there’s also like quite strong, normative effects among higher educated families, so they would compensate these negative effects of parental unemployment.

Christine Garrington  5:56  

So what do we learn from all of this then?

Jani Erola  5:58 

The kind of a conclusive evidence for this, in Finland’s case is that the most important are the periods when these choices are made, and of course it could be entirely different. I mean you could ask what other negative things happened in their early childhood that should have kind of the most long lasting and negative effect in general but at least in the Finnish case it really seems to be that in the case of education, it is the choice period that that matters, especially, I think that’s one of the, one of the most important conclusions. So, for this we are talking about education as is the way which is basically free of charge, also widely accessible for different kinds of places around the country and also for different socioeconomic groups as well.

 

Hannu Lehti  6:38 

The education system is huge in Finland and it’s like, because the schools are free of charge and our education system is very equal, everybody goes to the same comprehensive school. We don’t have any private schools, and we don’t have any kind of debt in the schooling system also so that’s also equalise these effects, a lot, I think.

Christine Garrington  7:03  

And how might all this translate into advice or recommendations for policymakers and educators, looking to support the families of people who have lost their job or who have experienced periods of unemployment?

Hannu Lehti  7:16  

We think it’s not about the benefits because we don’t find any effects of parental income, so the economic situation seems not to matter, so we don’t see that more benefits would be helpful but there lets say school help these kids but maybe it’s quite hard to target this support only for the children of unemployed, so maybe one way of doing this is increased amount of student counselling during the final years of the compulsory and secondary. 

Christine Garrington  7:49  

Jani is that something you’d echo?

Jani Erola  7:52  

If we had a nice way of targeting the support for these families, that would be of course great, but in most of the cases that I think it’s almost impossible. We don’t know that even schools don’t know that well the kind of life histories of families. So in that sense. The only way is actually going through universal support but of course we should know what kind of information should these kids and families actually have to actually choose something else? And that is of course something important that we need to study more. This results from the institutional context where we have wide extensive social support, especially for unemployment. I suppose it has to be kept in mind that in some other context, it might be actually wiser just to, even just to increase economic support installed, instead of only student council, or only targeted choice help.

Christine Garrington  8:43  

The heterogeneous effects of parental unemployment on siblings’ educational outcomes is research by Hannu Lehti, Jani Erola and Aleksi Karhula. You can find out more about the Equal Lives project at www.equal-lives.org. Thanks for listening to this episode of our podcast, which is presented and produced by Chris Garrington. Don’t forget to subscribe to the DIAL podcast to access earlier and forthcoming episodes.