Men are happier when out-performing the educational achievements of their parents, a new study has suggested. And when that doesn’t happen, it can be as psychologically distressing as getting a divorce.
University of Oxford researchers analysed data on over 50,000 people in the UK and 27 other European countries to compare their psychological state with their educational achievements.
While exceeding parents’ education was linked to happiness in men, women appeared unaffected by their parents’ academic achievements.
Study author Dr Alexi Gugushvili told the British Sociological Association’s annual conference on 10 April that the disparity between exceeding parents’ education and being happy, and not doing so and feeling distressed, “is especially harmful for men’s psychological health status”.
For the study, researchers divided parents’ and their children’s educational attainment into three categories: the top level equated to a degree, the middle to A-levels and the bottom to GCSE or lower. They then compared this with an overall score for their psychological distress based on their feelings of being depressed, lonely or sad.
Men whose educational level was at the bottom level, and whose parents were in the top, were more than twice as likely to be among the top 10% most psychologically distressed group than those whose educational level matched their parents. While men whose educational level was in the middle category when their parents were in the top level were 75% more likely to be psychologically distressed.
On the contrary, men whose educational level was at the top level, and whose parents were educated at the bottom level, were 50% less likely to be psychologically distressed than men whose level was the same as their parents.
Dr Gugushvili, who worked with Dr Yizhang Zhao and Dr Erzsébet Bukodi, told the conference: “For men, parents’ educational achievement and intergenerational mobility retain an important influence on their psychological health after accounting for individuals’ social class and other explanations of distress, but no effect is observed for women’s distress.
“The reason for this could be that men are more likely than women to attribute success and failure by pointing to their own merits, abilities and effort, rather than factors they have no control over.”
He said the findings contradict earlier research suggesting that surpassing parents’ education does not make people happier.