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Faculty of Economics

Whether a child is brought up by active or laid back parents can have a significant impact on their personality in later life, according to a University of Cambridge academic. Dr Rauh has found that the parent’s approach changes over time, but is closely linked to their socio-economic status.


Dr Christopher Rauh

“Investment in early childhood is well known to be crucial for developing the child's ‘human capital.” Says Dr Rauh. “Parents invest a lot of time in their child, but the amount varies considerably, and they engage in different ways. For example, by taking their kids to visit museums or frequently reading to their children.”

However, he has found that researchers trying to measure parental interaction often heavily restrict the number of activities analysed, often arbitrarily.

A new working paper Parenting Types by Christopher Rauh and Laetitia Renee develops a new methodology to measure parenting types, and the implications for the child, using machine learning, relying on an algorithm called ‘the latent Dirichlet allocation’, which classifies parents into types.

The resulting types can be interpreted as active parents, who encourage their children and express their affection, versus laissez-faire parents who do not interact much.

Complex interactions between parents and children summarised

Amongst more educated mothers with a college degree, the average likelihood of being active increases to 53.9%. “Mothers with higher education are much more involved with their child, and active. Furthermore, children of more active parents tend to achieve higher levels of what is referred to as ‘human accumulation’,” he says.

His research has shown the difference between the two groups is very marked, and also linked to socio-economic characteristics. “While nearly two-thirds of parents of the active type make supportive comments about the progress of the child, this is the case for only 0.1% of parents of the laissez-faire type. In effect, they are 626 times more likely to do so,” he says. “Similarly, there are large differences among those who speak directly to their child, which is done by 91% of the active parents compared to only 0.2% of the parents of the laissez-faire type.”

Another marked change happens to parents as they get older. “Over time, parents tend to move from the active type to the laissez-faire type. In effect, they get more laid back as the children age and interact with their child less.”

The full paper is available at:




Human Capital


Machine Learning