Adolescent Family Experiences Predict Young Adult Educational Attainment: A Data-Based Cross-Study Synthesis With Machine Learning

Xiaoran Sun, Nilam Ram, Susan M. McHale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Grounded in theory and research on the role of adolescent family experiences in young adult educational attainment, this study took the novel step of synthesizing results from prior studies and using a machine learning (ML) approach to address three questions: (1) By incorporating adolescent family experience factors examined across prior studies in a single analysis, how accurately can we predict young adult educational attainment? (2) Which family experience factors are the best predictors of young adult educational attainment? (3) What complex patterns among family experience predictors merit further examination? Based on a review of 101 publications that used National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data to investigate links between adolescent family experiences and young adult attainment, we identified 53 family experience independent variables. We used an ML-based approach to train and test models with these 53 Wave I family variables (adolescent in Grade 7–12) as predictors of both college enrollment (N = 4598) and graduation (N = 4180) at Wave IV (young adult mean age = 28.88, SD = 1.76). Our models (1) obtained prediction accuracies of 73.43% and 72.33% for college enrollment, and 79.10% and 79.07% for college graduation, (2) identified the best predictors of college enrollment and graduation, including family socioeconomic characteristics and parent educational expectations, and (3) highlight nonlinear patterns for further examination. This study advanced understanding of how adolescent family experiences may influence educational attainment and provided a paradigm for developmental research to synthesize existing findings into novel discoveries with large-scale datasets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2770-2785
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Adolescent Family Experiences Predict Young Adult Educational Attainment: A Data-Based Cross-Study Synthesis With Machine Learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this