Brief What If Mom Went Back to School?
Short- and long-term effects for both generations, with policy and practice implications
Theresa Anderson
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Many women enroll in school after having children. Using a matched comparison group drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 to track family outcomes for up to 20 years, I estimate the long-term impacts for women and their children when mothers returned to school after a gap of at least two years in their studies. I find that, overall, going back to school was beneficial for mothers and their children’s educational and economic growth. Some caveats were present, including negative associations with marriage and therefore family income, negative long-term mental health impacts for mothers and physical health impacts for their children, and some signs of behavioral issues among children. Many of these negative effects did not appear for mothers who completed college degrees—but less than one-quarter of mothers who reenrolled completed a college degree. Based on the insights from this work, as well as a general review of policy issues, I describe opportunities for schools, institutions, and federal policy to improve experiences for student-mothers enrolled in college and to promote degree completion.

Research Areas Workforce Education Families Children and youth Economic mobility and inequality
Tags Beyond high school: education and training Assistance for women and children Child care Children's health and development Economic well-being Families with low incomes Family and household data Higher education Inequities in educational achievement Kids in context Maternal, child, and reproductive health Mobility Parenting Postsecondary education and training Student parents Wages and economic mobility Women and girls
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center
Research Methods Data analysis Quantitative data analysis Qualitative data analysis