Failing to match the academic achievements of your parents can be as distressing for men as a divorce, a study suggests.
Researchers divided educational attainment into three categories – the top level equated to a degree, the middle to A-levels and the bottom to GCSEs or lower.
The levels reached by parents and their children were then compared with their psychological state.
The Oxford University researchers found that exceeding parents’ educational attainment was linked to decreased psychological distress in men – but falling short was linked to an increase.
However women did not appear to be affected by failing to keep up with their parents. The survey analysed results from more than 50,000 people in Britain and 27 other European countries.
Men whose educational status was at the bottom level and whose parents were at the top level were more than twice as likely to be among the 10 percent of most psychologically distressed people than those whose educational level matched their parents’.
Study co-author Dr Alexi Gugushvili said the effect was comparable to the gap between those who were divorced and those who were not.
But men whose educational status was at the top level and whose parents were at the bottom level were 50 percent less likely to be psychologically distressed than men whose level was the same as their parents’.
Dr Gugushvili said: ‘For men, parents’ educational achievement and intergenerational mobility retain an important influence on their psychological health after accounting for individuals’ social class and other explanations of distress, but no effect is observed for women’s distress.
‘The reason for this could be that men are more likely than women to attribute success and failure by pointing to their own merits, abilities and effort, rather than factors they have no control over.’
Dr Gugushvili is due to present the findings at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference.