Press release

Strong parental networks: Not good for all children

Close contacts among parents only benefit students in affluent communities

Parents’ social networks have an impact on their children’s educational attainment. WZB researcher Anette Fasang and two US-based colleagues have studied the details of how parental networks affect the educational careers of adolescents. Their findings show that close contacts among parents primarily benefit students in affluent communities. In economically depressed communities, by contrast, frequent informal parental exchange tends to disadvantage students by reinforcing social inequities and standing in the way of upward social mobility.

The three researchers looked at about 10,000 adolescents and their parents surveyed in the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Educational attainment was defined using the grade point average in students’ high school diploma (roughly the equivalent of the German Abitur) and their likelihood of obtaining such a diploma in the first place.

Depending on how many students at a given school live in poverty, strong parental networks have a favorable or inhibiting effect on the academic achievements of their children. At schools with a student poverty rate of more than 30 percent, students whose parents are involved in parental networks are up to 5 percent less likely to graduate from high school than students whose parents do not have such connections. “In view of the fact that the likelihood of earning a high school degree is generally high to begin with, this is an unexpectedly strong effect,” says Anette Fasang.  At schools with a student poverty rate of below 10 percent, by contrast, the research team found that regular informal exchange among parents helps improve students’ grade point average and makes them more likely to graduate. However, once more than 10 percent of students at a school are poor, the positive influence of informal parental networks is reversed.

The study is published in the March issue of "Sociological Forum"; a short version is available in the quarterly WZB Mitteilungen (only in German).

Fasang, Anette E./Mangino, William/Brückner, Hannah: Social Closure and Educational Attainment. In: Sociological Forum, 2014, Vol. 29, No. 1.

Fasang, Anette: Eine Ressource – nur für Bessergestellte. In ärmeren Vierteln nützen starke Eltern-Netzwerke den Kindern in der Schule nicht. In: WZB-Mitteilungen, Heft 143/März 2014, S. 30-32. (verlinken mit pdf)

Press contact

Prof. Dr. Anette Fasang, Head of the WZB project group Demography and Inequality, phone: 030-25491-434, email: anette.fasang [at]

Claudia Roth, WZB press office, phone: 030-25491-510, email: claudia.roth [at]