The Effects of Grandparents on Children’s Schooling: Evidence from Rural China

Zeng, Zhen and Yu Xie
Working paper no. 2011-11


Past studies of intergenerational mobility in the U.S. have found that the influence of grandparents on their grandchildren’s socioeconomic outcomes is completely mediated through the middle generation. Drawing on data from the 2002 Chinese Household Income Project, we investigate the direct effects of grandparents on grandchildren’s educational attainment in rural China. The results show that the U.S. pattern does not apply to China, primarily due to the high prevalence of multigenerational coresidence in China. We find that the educational level of coresident grandparents directly affects the educational attainment of their grandchildren, with an effect size equivalent to that of parental education. In contrast, the education of non-coresident and deceased grandparents does not have any effect. These findings lead to the conclusion that coresidence is a critical condition for grandparents’ influences on grandchildren. Thus, the finding of no direct effect of grandparents in the prior literature may be attributable to a low rate of multigenerational coresidence in the U.S.