What can parents do? The causal mediating role of parenting in explaining SES differences in children's language development





parenting, language skills, causal mediation, social inequality


Objective: This study estimates how much of the differences by socioeconomic status (SES) in children’s language development are mediated by parenting styles, parenting practices, and parental investments.

Background: There are large differences in children’s language development by parental socioeconomic status (SES). According to some studies, SES gaps in language skills among preschoolers could be reduced substantially by intervening in the parenting styles, practices, and parental investments of low-SES parents. However, the extent to which parenting mediates the effects on language skills of growing up in low-SES contexts is still unknown.

Method: This paper uses data from the National Educational Panel Study starting cohort 1, a random sample of children born between 2012 and 2013 in Germany and employs interventional causal mediation analysis to estimate the mediated share of the total effect of SES on children’s language that goes through parenting, broadly understood.

Results: Parenting explains around one-third of the total effect of SES on early language skills, but close to nothing of the effect on later language skills.

Conclusion: Although a share of the SES effect operates through parenting, and all parenting dimensions affect children’s language skills, interventions in parenting would be limited in their ability to reduce the gap in substantial ways. Alternative pathways, through which inequality in language skills is reproduced, could potentially explain a larger share of this effect.


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How to Cite

Rodríguez Sánchez, A. (2022). What can parents do? The causal mediating role of parenting in explaining SES differences in children’s language development. Journal of Family Research. https://doi.org/10.20377/jfr-688