Parenting Cognitive Development: The Institutional Effects of Mass Education on the Social Construction of Parenting and Childhood

Open Access
Schaub, Maryellen
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 20, 2004
Committee Members:
  • John David Mccarthy, Committee Chair
  • Sean Reardon, Committee Member
  • Roger Kent Finke, Committee Member
  • John Kramer, Committee Member
  • Childhood
  • Parenting
  • Education
A pivotal idea in this dissertation is that prevailing notions of childhood have changed over time in the U.S. Specifically, I show that changes have occurred in parent behaviors regarding cognitive development of their young children and argue that the growing trend in the parenting of cognitive development in young children in the latter half of the 20th century was largely attributable to the institutionalization of mass schooling. This dissertation examines parenting cognitive development from 1951 to 2001 in five ways. First, I compare and contrast three strains of relevant theoretical work from Peter Berger, John Meyer and Phillip Aries. Second I review several relevant literatures: 1) the sociological literature on changes in parenting in the U.S. during the 20th century; 2) the research literature on changes in the U.S. during the 20th century in expert literature to parents on cognitive development of children; 3) the research literature on parental involvement in schooling; and 4) the demographic literature on family trends in the 20th century. Next, I present analyses of parent behavior from Patterns of Childrearing 1951-52, the Detroit Area Study 1963, and the National Household Education Surveys 1991 and 2001 to show the changes in parent behaviors around the cognitive development of their children in the U.S. in the 50 year span from 1951 to 2001. Fourth, I demonstrate the changing impact of household income and mothers’ education as evidence of the overall influence of mass education on norms and behaviors of parents. Finally, I describe the normative nature of parenting cognitive development by the beginning of the 21st century using the National Household Education Survey 1991, 1993, 1996, 1999, and 2001 and speculate on its implications for the sociologies of parenting and education, as well as a neo-institutional analysis of schooling. In addition, I contrast my institutional argument with a demographic one. The results show parents increasingly spent more time engaging in activities related to cognitive development over the second half of the 20th century so that by 1991 it was normative behavior but continued to increase in the following decade. In addition, mothers’ education became an increasingly better predictor of parenting cognitive development over the latter half of the 20th century however, in the last decade of the 20th century the effects of mothers’ education on parenting cognitive development declined and the trends began to converge as further evidence of parenting cognitive development as normative behavior.