Suppose father XXX holds a college degree, usually comes home late and suddenly one fine day, stays at home. He lost his job. His son sees this happening. The father is a hard-working man, always advising his son to study hard so that he can earn a good living. Now, he is jobless and humiliated despite all his hard work. The son is smart but too blunt with his words. The father's heart was broken when the son said

"Why should I study so hard when you hold a college degree, work hard all your life and see what happened to you?"

The father finds it hard to argue with his son because the logic is sound. How would fellow parents advise him?

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    "because the logic is sound" I guess it would be important to internalize that this logic is not sound. It's the same kind of logic that makes climate change sceptics argue that there is no global warming because "it's cold today". There are basically no guarantees in life. First-hand experience of a single data point of a person for which education did not work out means close to nothing. I understand that this is disappointing for the son on a personal level, but it still remains super-flaky logic. (also, the son probably uses this as an excuse anyway)
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 13:58
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    That logic is not sound. Bad things like losing a job happen, and are random occurrences which can't be predicted. However, the positive economic impact of obtaining a college degree has been studied and is real; likewise, the negative impact of not getting a college degree or earning a high school diploma have also been studied and are real. Father should point out that he's looking for a new job, and that son should continue to study hard. Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 19:16
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    "It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life." - Jean-Luc Picard
    – user9672
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 19:56
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    I've been jobless before I was educated and jobless after I was educated. I certainly prefer the later. Try answering the question honestly. What has education done for you? I might mean nothing to the kid but he asked. The key is to get the kid thinking about the future. Ask him what his plan is. Judging his choices will only create conflict. Talking about risks and rewards is a better conversation. Hard work at something he doesn't love is nothing but a curse. I'd sell college as a rare chance to explore possibilities. Also a great place to meet girls. Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 4:19
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    The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the good jobs to the educated, but that's the way to bet. Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 10:04

17 Answers 17


First and foremost, that logic is not sound. The argument boils down to "bad things happen no matter what, so why should I try?"

To give an analogous example, I can take meticulous care of my car and it could run for 10+ years. But all that care will not put a magic ward around my car to protect it from a storm causing a flood or knocking a tree on to it. By your son's logic, I shouldn't even bother taking care of the car. And I would expect that car to be a broken down wreck after a couple of years. But guess what? By taking good care of my cars I have had most last 10+ years. I've also lost some to having an idiot driver blow a stop light and cream my car. But that doesn't stop me from taking care of my cars. Because I am far more likely to achieve success (being defined in this case as keeping a car running for a long time) by taking steps towards making that happen than by relying on the universe's sense of chaos and justice to benevolently grant me long running car.

I know this sounds cliche, but it applies here anyway. Success is not measured by how many times we fall, but by how many times we pick ourselves back up. The father in your story has a college degree and a history of hard work. Those are tools he can use to pick himself back up and get going again. Without those, it would be far harder to get a new job.

Sure, there are stories of college drop-out millionaires and of people who studied and worked hard all their lives and are destitute. But those are the statistical outliers. Most people who study and work hard end up doing ok in the long run. (Looking at the long term here is key as well. Short term, the father here is not doing well. Long term I'm sure he will be fine.)

Also, not studying or working hard just restricts the opportunities your son could have later in life. Those things don't guarantee success, but failing to do them can lead to certain failure depending on the pursuit. (If you want to work at some place like NASA, you better have a college degree or it just ain't happening.) Most people will never rival Jimi Hendrix as a guitar player. Those who never bother to try learning to play a guitar certainly never will.

Study and hard work don't make you immune to problems. They better prepare you to deal with problems. Since everyone is going to have problems in life, why would you want to make it harder for yourself by trading some play time now for a world of pain later?

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    Most (20th-century, anyway) college drop-out millionaire stories are of people who were already working very hard to understand a new and disruptive technology, and got to college only to realize that their professors had not yet managed to grasp the intricacies of the new technology; in short, that they knew more than their professors. Dropping out then involved a great deal of hard work starting a new business in a new industry etc. etc. You can be a millionaire as a college drop-out, but in almost all cases inheritance is the only way to be one without working hard.
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 18:41
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    It's also important to note that even one or two semesters of college will give you knowledge which possibly gave you the last bit you needed to "go make it on your own". I make this point with everyone trying to argue college is overrated by making examples of different millionaire drop-outs.
    – William
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 20:55
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    @William'MindWorX'Mariager: that's one reason "Harvard is a great place to drop out of" -- dropping out of Harvard gives you things that not going to college in the first place does not: a few semesters of high-quality education, contacts with some of the smarter and wealthier members of society, etc.
    – Max
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 21:48
  • Right, college drop-outs by definition got into college. It's the high-school dropout millionaires (of which there are probably fewer but certainly more than none) you need to look at, if you want to figure out how it's possible to make it without studying. Discounting those who inherit I suspect it's mostly people who worked hard at something non-academic: small businesses, drug-dealers, whatever. Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 11:29
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    @SteveJessop Dropping out of high school doesn't imply not studying. I dropped out of high school so I could spend more time at the library. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 2:46

Could tell him it is the difference between having a chance and having no chance. People can work hard and do all the right things and still end up unemployed with a low standard of life, but on the whole it happens a lot less to educated hard working people than uneducated layabouts.

Also there is more to education than just getting a job, it is far easier to trick, scam and deprive an ignorant person of their rights than an educated person.

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    Good last point.
    – Zaibis
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 13:22
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    I'd add that there's also more to education than "study hard; go to college", despite what many people (seem to) think.
    – Geobits
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 13:23
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    If you would come to me with the "no chance" story, I would easily be able to think of / dig out a bunch of examples of college drop-outs or high school graduates that went on to great careers. It's all a game of probabilities. Better education == better chances, but you can still get rich with no education or be unemployed with a PhD.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 14:06
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    @xLeitix you could also win the lottery but i wouldn't bet my future on it Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 14:22
  • You could dig up some statistics to support this idea when you present it to your son. Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 7:13

The son could be helped with examining whether he actually thinks that it's true that higher education is useless, or just that this argument happens to fit with his current desire to not do the work. The way you do that depends on the child's age.

If he is indeed interested in whether education makes a difference, perhaps show/discuss some data (if he's responsive to that way of thinking - depends on the emotional state of the situation). In general, I believe that in the US it's pretty clear that the higher the education, the higher the %-employment and pay.

1) The value of college in 2 graphs: Unemployment vs. HS/College Degree

2) Education level vs. Unemployment % & Income: Earnings & Unemployment vs. Educational Attainment (From US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

(Doesn't include apprenticeships or on-the-job training, which presumably help you as well.)

As other people have answered, employment numbers are statistics - so low unemployment numbers like 2% still mean there are 2% unemployed - perhaps including the father. Also, the particular choice of major is important. But income is not everything - doing something you enjoy for 8 hours a day is worth a lot of money.

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    This was my thought on the matter - appeal to the numbers so thanks for answering so well. I would also add that the OP's case is essentially anecdotal or an anomaly and not the rule. Also, there is something to be said for being educated in an employable field. Some disciplines have a difficult time finding work for sure; one should choose their vocation wisely.
    – GenericJam
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 16:09
  • Averages and statistics are not particularly meaningful, and totally irrelevant to individuals (which, except for that cat who really is 50% dead and 50% live, everyone I know is...). Even if 1 member in 3 of (some arbitrarily defined, but let's let that slide) workforce is unemployed, that won't matter to you if you're not one of them and aren't indirectly burdened by, say, a family member who is, and even if the figure is 1%, it will matter 100% if that's you. (There is truth to the saying 'X percent of the time, it works every time'.) Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 4:57
  • Bottom line is that education (or a particular choice of career path, or insurance, or gambling, or really anything in life at all) will either help the kid or be a waste (hopefully not actively hurt on top of that by steering him into something inferior to what would have been, as a sister of mine can attest), but it is hard for me at least -- and in my opinion likely the father too -- to know which. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 4:57

It is unlikely the son concluded this after a calm and rational examination of his options, but rather was reacting in the heat of the moment.

Establish in subsequent discussions that the son's logic isn't particularly sound. Advanced education provides a lot of opportunities. It does not guarantee permanent success (as the father has found), but it opens more doors and pays higher wages. (And the son will always need to work hard, whether in school, towards a degree, or in a job. It's a different sort of hard work if you don't have a degree... and usually doesn't pay nearly as well.) Also, basic education is important even for you're a manual laborer. Math and reading are critical skills for everyday life.

But also, lead by example. Being jobless isn't the end of everything. The father has a college degree and has a long history of hard work. I know from experience that it's difficult, both emotionally and logistically, to find a new job. However, this is the time to lead by example: do that hard work, demonstrating to the son that a setback is not a reason to give up.

  • This is the answer nobody touched. Chill the atmosphere, come down to the childs level of understanding, speak in a calm way. Trying to influence someone doesn't come with high tones so to speak, doesn't work.
    – Nachmen
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 5:21

The son is not asking a "rational" question. This is his feelings talking. Feelings need to be understood, and feelings need help to be converted to words. This is not a question to be answerd with logic. The son is saying "I have a bunch of weird feeling going on, I don't know how to express myself! Help!".

Try to understand him, empathise with him and give words to his feeling. Don't be afraid to dig deep. Maybe he's ashamed, maybe he's frustrated like you, maybe he's sad, maybe he hates school and that was the tipping point. Helping him express himself will help a lot.

When the dad lost his job, I'm sure he talked a lot with his spouse. He also need to talk to the kids. Explain what is hapenning, and explain what will happen next.

Also, try to look busy in the house. Take the extra time to be with the kids. You could even ask their help in finding new job: "Want to review my resume?", "Do you know the new places on the Internet to find jobs?", etc.

Also, remember, sometime kids see their parents as perfect beings and seeing something bad happen to them or seeing them fail at something hurt them a lot.


The way I handled this situation worked really well for me, perhaps it would for you...

I explained that a job is just a job, and sometimes jobs suck, sometimes they are great, and sometimes both for different people. But in job loss, there is a great deal that is NOT lost. You lose your particular income arrangement and role in whatever operation you were part of. But if you were a mechanic, you still very much ARE a mechanic, and a current one (until you set it down for too long). Your education and experience make it this way, and you remain a powerful human with the ability to be a mechanic in another role in not too much time with luck in the job search.

But as you view it as a disaster or catastrophe, you teach being victim of something profoundly negative. Now he sees college as something which has, in front of his very eyes, wounded the heart of his dad and he is sure to resent and blame whatever seems to be the cause. If he's already intimidated by college, this would certainly not help.

So what I did instead was present the job loss as something not to be afraid of. Bring it on! I'll find a new one, and things will work out, because that's what I do. Losing a job, especially unexpectedly, is a sufficient blow to your usual mode of operation to bring things to a screeching halt, and will test your character to be sure, but don't let it sink your ship. It's a good thing for your son to see you affected, and whether he thinks so or not, he's being programmed by watching you for you teaching him how you see the world. If you demonstrate being powerful through this, it will steer things a different direction than if you demonstrate being a victim to the woes and injustices of workplace politics.

I think if he ever loses a job and has children, he WILL remember these very moments with you, and that will matter to him, again possibly more than he'll realize.

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    "And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." - Thomas Wayne Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 18:27

Daring to kick father XXX in the pants in an attempt to try to assist in rising above the humiliation:

Is father XXX now forever crippled and broken, never again to dare reach for greatness? Or is father XXX just currently jobless and humiliated for a spell while busily learning from this lesson how to become a stronger better person, and then forging a new path, one step wiser than before?

If it's the latter then one solution to the son's challenge is to just grin at son a wiry, hungry grin and proclaim:

"You think this is where I end, son? Then you go ahead and sit back and wait to see where I go next. You wait and see, young boy. You just wait and see."

Then, when the time is right, go kick life in the pants. It probably needs a good kicking.

Nothing teaches the next generation lessons of character quite like a real life demonstration.


"If I were not educated, we would not have all the things we currently have. Sure, today I don't have a job - but if I had not had a job for the last X years can you imagine where we would be and what kind of life we would be living?"

"This joblessness is a bump in the road. Lots of people don't have jobs. Half of them don't have degrees - but I do. This means that even though I'm jobless right now, I have a much better chance of getting a job more quickly than someone less educated."

"Education is a little like a concrete foundation. If you build on sand and just stick wood into the ground, it may suffice for awhile, but it will get blown over by even minor storms. With education, though, you have a strong foundation to build on. Your life will be much more secure. It doesn't protect you from the worst of life's storms - but it helps with the minor storms, and when a bad storm comes along, you still have the foundation, and you can rebuild just as good a life as you had before much more quickly than can one who is just sticking wood into the soft sand."


There are a lot of answers already. Most (all?) of them are good. But there's one important piece of this that none of them address: how do you feel about your situation? It sounds to me from the wording of your question like you have some lingering doubts about your own life choices. You need to sort that out or you will lack credibility when attempting to address this with your child.

There are two (only two) options: chance at success or certain failure.

Your child may not succeed (and who defines success? is your life/career over because you lost your job?) by studying hard/learning a trade/etc but will certainly fail (for almost any meaning of that term) by not doing so.


Turn the question around.

Why should I study so hard when you hold a college degree, work hard all your life and see what happened to you?

"What did happen to me, exactly? I lost that job, sure. But look around you, see this house? If I hadn't gone to college, I would have never had that job in the first place. I'd be an assistant manager at a fast food joint or gas station, and we'd be living in a little apartment without air conditioning. You'd be getting around town on a bicycle, and a nice dinner to celebrate something would mean getting Chinese delivered.

And that's why you should keep studying."

(Replacing the examples with something more appropriate/accurate/relevant if necessary, and/or focusing on whatever luxuries the son cares about the most, etc.)


One answer would be: "I have just lost my job. That was a shock for me, but I'm getting over it and I will find a new job. However, having my son, who is close to an adult, come to me with that kind of stupidity isn't helping. I have to worry about money, I have to worry about finding a new job, don't add to my worries right now. You are old enough to be responsible for what you do".


Why not advise your son to learn a trade? Tell him that once you have a trade, no one can take that away from you. You will always be able to work.

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    Even learning a trade requires hard work, and does not guarantee success. (Nobody took away the father's degree, just his job. The same can happen to a plumber, mechanic, or electrician.)
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 15:07
  • I think this may actually get to the root of things. University isn't the only way to make a good life (and some would question whether it's really a good investment). I doubt the son has reacted this way simply because of the job loss. A smart kid saw it as ammo for backing up the idea that maybe college isn't for him.
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 21:55

Losing a job is gaining life. Even if you are a college degree holder, worked hard forever, and raised your kids to believe that college is the way to go, a loss of a job just means a chance to move onto something fresh. Possibly better, depending on the perspective. Plus, how much worse would things have been had he never got a degree and got the job he just lost? You all could have been living in a single wide with an extension cord running from the neighbor's garage, which in itself could even be a good life.

Basically, I'm saying a job is a means to an end. The more education AND EXPERIENCE you have, the better chance you have for getting a better job, or not needing a job in the first place. Mr XXX may very well be on his way to his own business with a new motivation, his degree, and all the experience he has collected over these years. And losing a job shouldn't be humiliating, though that's all in the eye of the beholder.

I think I would try to project to your son that this is not a bad thing. Jobs come and go. They always will. It's better this way anyhow because stagnation can lead to a repetitious and potentially boring life. Call it fate if you want, but life may know better than you do that it's time to move on to other things. And moving on is easier when you're educated, when you have experience, and when your family supports you.

If I were mr XXX, I'd take this time to soak in the joy of living and go hang out with his son. We all could use a little time off here and there.


"Why should I study so hard when you hold a college degree, work hard all your life and see what happened to you?"

This claim is hard to argue against because you are struggling with that question yourself. Consider everything you have, right now, because you went to college and worked hard. Consider the opportunities you took, and even the ones you didn't. I know if I hadn't gone to college, I wouldn't have my current friends, family, car.. just about everything.

Your son would never admit it, and might not even know it, but he is probably scared. He sees you, a role model, work so hard and be successful, and then suddenly you are unemployed. Subconsciously he might be thinking, "If you can't get a job, why would I be able to? What if I can't get a job either? What if I go to college and put in all that hard work for nothing? Why would that be worth it?"

He may have asked in a negative way, but it is a valid question. What would you tell him, if he voiced the words in bold instead of saying it the way he did the first time?

My answer: Even with what happened to me(losing my job), I would do it all again. For the reasons I gave above, but also because college is an experience which teaches you what you are capable of and guides you towards what you'd like to do with your life. Being jobless is only temporary. I still have my degree. Sure, it's possible that I struggle to find a job, but I am much better off for having gone to college than I would be otherwise.

That argument means nothing if your son's goals don't involve going to college. I have known people who basically want to spend their life spending the minimum effort in order to have a place and just enjoy themselves otherwise. Ask him what his goals are, but if he isn't sure then college is a great place to go while figuring it out. The alternative is starting on a job now. If he's smart, he could probably work up to being a retail manager within 2-10 years. There's nothing wrong with that, if that is what he is happy with.


A better job is only one of the benefits of college, and perhaps one we focus too heavily on. Gaining an educated peer group, practicing responsibility, learning patterns of thought and study, being exposed to new ideas, increasing your options, expanding your horizons, building a network, and having a chance to enjoy a piece of your young adulthood before full-time employment are a few of the others.


Study for interest, not for a job. I'm very glad I did that, and even if I lost my job, I would still have the interest.

(This may not work if you've said studying is just so you can get a job.)


Despite being hard, college is fun, probably the last hurrah of your youth.

Secondly, you really can't get a job at all without a college degree unless it's working in a store/restaurant.

You could explain that with a college degree, you atleast stand a chance for finding work again.

If all else fails, explain life is unfair but don't make it harder for yourself.

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