Date of Award

Spring 1997

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Karen Smith Conway


When evaluating public education programs that are aimed at improving student achievement, it is often assumed that a child's family background is an exogenous factor, albeit an important factor. However, parental decisions may be influenced by such programs. It is the assertion of Becker and Tomes (1976) that distortions in parental behavior (time allocation) may be one of the reasons that compensatory education fails to improve student achievement. In short, parents reduce their own effort when school services (schooling) is increased. However, theoretically parental responses are ambiguous; parental effort can increase or decrease in response to increased schooling. This dissertation investigates the response of parents to changes in schooling and the opportunity cost of schooling.

Empirically investigating parental behavior, the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) is utilized. NELS contains parent, student and school administrator surveys along with standardized student examinations. It is the comprehensive nature of NELS that allows for the estimation of the model implied by Becker and Tomes (1976) for the first time. When schooling is assumed to be exogenous, parental effort equations are estimated the results of which are used in the estimation of the household's achievement production function. When schooling is assumed to be endogenous, parental effort and schooling equations are estimated, and again the results are used to estimate the production function. In addition, tests are performed to determining the exogeneity of schooling.

The empirical results suggest that parental effort is influenced by changes in schooling and the opportunity cost of schooling. Unfortunately, the results are conflicting. Depending on the measure of effort and schooling, some estimated coefficients reveal a complementary relationship between schooling and effort, while others suggest that schooling and effort are substitutes. With regard to the role of schooling, exogeneity tests lend support for the non-exogeneity of schooling. In the end, it is concluded that parental effort is influenced by school variables, and the key to policy is ensuring that parental responses help rather than hinder policy.