Does Death Really Make Us Equal? Educational Attainment and Resource Compensation after Parental Death in Finland

Irene Prix & Jani Erola


Attempts to explain the persistent importance of family background for children’s educational attainment have typically highlighted the ways in which parents pass down advantage to their children in the form of educational, economic and social resources. However, equally important in explaining these familiar patterns may be the role that parental resources can play in preventing cumulative disadvantage.
To study such compensation processes, we examine to what extent experiencing the death of their father affects children’s later educational trajectories in Finland. Our register-based sample contains over 66,000 children born between 1982 and 1987. The results based on multilevel linear probability models support our compensation hypothesis: bereaved children of disadvantaged mothers were less likely to complete upper secondary schooling or enter higher education, while paternal death had no such consequences for children of better-off mothers. However, bereaved children’s higher education attendance shifted from the more prestigious universities towards the less selective polytechnics.