The Influence of a Father on a Daughter’s College Decision

In 2010, Utah Women and Education Project researchers conducted in-depth research to discover why more young women around the state are not attending and graduating from college. The full set of results was published in a series of 12 research snapshots, which you can find on the Utah Women and Leadership website. In this blog, we look at the influence fathers have on young women attending college.

Utah Women and Education Project researchers conducted in-depth research in 2010 to discover why more young women around the state are not attending and graduating from college. We discovered that fathers in Utah have a significant influence on their daughters’ college choices, regarding graduating from college, not attending at all, or attending then dropping out.

What did fathers do?

What did fathers do to help their daughters love learning and desire to attend college? In our research, a young woman who graduated from college was significantly more likely to have had a father who did the following throughout her upbringing:

  • Read to her.
  • Helped her with school projects and other homework.
  • Took her to cultural events and other activities.
  • Attended school events.
  • Created learning experiences for her inside and outside the home (e.g., gave her the materials and directions to build something and guided her as needed; taught her to change a tire; worked with her to plant a garden).
  • Set a positive example through prioritizing education for himself (e.g., observed him reading books, heard him ask questions to others, watched him earn a college degree, and discussed with him what he had learned).
  • Helped her develop lifelong learning skills.

Dad’s educational level a factor

According to our data, the higher the educational attainment of the father, the more likely his daughter will:

  • Develop a love for learning.
  • Have a father who sets a positive example of gaining knowledge and learning.
  • Have a father who started talking about college when she was young.
  • Receive more encouragement and support to attend college.
  • Prepare for college attendance (e.g., save money for college, discuss financial aid, take AP and concurrent enrollment courses, visit a college campus, request information from a college, apply to a college, get accepted or admitted to a college, and receive a scholarship or grant to attend college).
  • Attend and graduate from college.

What participants had to say

“My father has helped me develop a deep love for learning. I remember when I was in 2nd grade I had an obsession with reading; my dad would suggest books to me, and sometimes even read the books at the same time as me so that we could discuss the plots. I remember always trying to read as quickly as he would when we were reading books at the same time so that he wouldn’t have to wait for me to turn the page, of course, he didn’t really mind waiting for me” [college graduate].

“At dinner, my dad would ask each of the kids what we learned that day in school. We were not only asked to tell what we learned, but also express understanding of the subject” [college graduate].

“I think my father tried to ruin learning for me. He made fun of me when I got put in a special reading class because I didn’t know how to read, and when I learned to love reading, he would take my books away. When I was in 5th grade, he grounded me for 4 months from doing everything but multiplication tables; he wanted me to be able to do them all in 30 seconds, 1-12. Which, I did, but now I can hardly remember any of them. I don’t talk to my father anymore, he was a jerk, and I don’t want anything to do with him” [never attended].

The text of this blog was excerpted from a January 2011 research snapshot authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “The Influence of a Father on a Daughter’s College Decision.” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context.)

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