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What Do Parents Teach their Children? – On Birth Order and Performance Differences in Dutch Compulsory Education

Theory and evidence indicate that, if family size grows, the younger children will get less parental involvement than the older children. These differences in parental involvement through birth order may impact academic achievement if, and only if, parental involvement is an important determinant of children’s educational attainment. The oldest child then benefits the most in terms of educational outcomes. This hypothesis is tested for one European country, the Netherlands, by using an instrumental variables empirical strategy. In particular, birth order is used as an instrument for parental involvement in order to account for endogeneity issues. The estimates show a robust negative relationship between birth order and parental involvement, and significant positive medium to large effects of parental involvement through birth order on various measures of academic achievement. Furthermore, our findings indicate that academic achievement is rooted in a school-supportive home climate, often created by the mother, and unrelated to parents’ background. Notwithstanding mothers’ indispensable role in teaching values about school(ing) to her children at home, having both parents concerned about education can significantly increase achievement and reduce grade retention in Dutch compulsory education.
Keywords: Birth Order; Communication; Homework Involvement; Parents; Student Achievement

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