The goal of the research was to determine whether educational backgrounds in the family would affect stress levels of teens entering college. To do this, researchers examined strands of hair from 71 young women. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can accumulate in hair when levels are high for an extended period of time.
Participants filled out questionnaires about things like stress and their parents’ education levels, plus gave three strands of hair for the team to study. By looking at the most recent hair growth, the researchers could get a good sense of the individual’s stress levels in recent weeks since the new semester had begun.
The results showed having at least one parent with a university degree is associated with more stress for first-year college students.
Why? The study’s co-authors, Alex Bertrams, Ph.D., and Nina Minkley, Ph.D., believe it comes down to maintaining the social status of your family. Those with college-educated parents may feel extra pressure to “keep the ball rolling,” so to speak, where those whose parents do not have degrees feel like there’s simply less to lose. “Individuals from non-academic families are particularly unstressed because they (and their families, respectively) can only gain (but not lose) an academic status,” they write in the paper on their findings.
Interestingly, other studies have echoed similar findings, with children from academic households going to college even if their performance in high school wasn’t exemplary, coming back to the idea of pressure and expectations.