Family Characteristics are More Important Than School Characteristics for Child Wellbeing

Associate dean, Dr. Mikaela Dufur introduces Dr. Toby Parcel as the 17th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecturer

The first-ever virtual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture took place with guest lecturer Toby L. Parcel, professor emerita of sociology at North Carolina State University, sharing her research on the effects of families and schools on child wellbeing. Her Feb. 4 lecture drew in over 200 participants.

View the lecture here.

Dr. Parcel shares that the best way to support schools is to support families. She says, “In each generation, we ask too much of schools, we place heavy burdens on schools and teachers. Let’s support families in doing their job well and in turn that will be the most beneficial for schools.”

Dr. Parcel finds that family social capital (connection to children) has a larger impact on child wellbeing than schools. Her research shows that social capital at home deters alcohol and drug use, but social capital at school does not.

“Family characteristics are virtually always more powerful than school characteristics in affecting adolescents’ cognitive and social outcomes,” says Dr. Parcel. She also finds that bonds between parents and children predict college enrollment and completion and are longer lasting than bonds at school.

When schools and families conflict, parental jobs become more difficult, but Dr. Parcel shares that when capital at home and at school are mutually reinforcing it can have “positive effects on both academic and social outcomes for children and reduce behavior problems.”

Dr. Parcel addressed the worry that many parents have that their children’s education is being negatively affected by online schooling. She finds that these negative effects are most severe for at-risk children. She also discovers that mothers especially struggle to balance work and their children’s schoolwork, all while establishing limits on screen time. On a positive note, some parents are becoming more involved and report better engagement with their children’s learning.

Dr. Parcel encouraged parents to create a warm and supportive environment in their homes by reading to children, asking about school, and showing their children that school is important.

Dr. Parcel gave additional public lectures online designed specifically for students and faculty.

During the student lecture on Feb. 2, Dr. Parcel spoke on the idea of “having it all,” or more specifically, balancing career ambitions and family goals. She asked students to consider how the choices they make now can help them in the years ahead.

“One can have it all, but probably not all at once,” says Dr. Parcel. “Different paths work best for different people.”

Dr. Parcel discussed how the shifting values in society and more remote job options are making careers more flexible and accessible for people who have different needs. She says, “At the end of the day, the ability to adapt to shifting circumstances is critical to making the right decisions at the right time.”

She presented relevant scholarship as well as her own experiences as an academic and mother that indicate a hopeful change and more opportunities — especially for women — in crafting a healthy balance between a career and family.

View the recorded sessions at