ESRC social mobility briefings draw on evidence from birth cohort studies

21 March 2012

Briefings draw on evidence from cohort studies to show how education, health, parenting and poverty influence social mobility.

Evidence from the birth cohort studies includes:

  • Disadvantaged children are more likely to arrive at school lacking basic socio-emotional skills, such as the ability to take part in conversations or pay attention to others (Millennium Cohort Study – MCS).
  • Breastfeeding leads to improved infant health, better academic outcomes, and fewer emotional problems, however breastfeeding is more common among better educated women from higher socio-economic groups (MCS).
  • There are no significant detrimental effects on a child’s social or emotional development if their mothers work during their early years (MCS).
  • Good father-child relations are associated with an absence of emotional and behavioural difficulties in adolescence and greater academic motivation (NCDS).
  • Children from the poorest fifth of homes in the UK are already on average nearly a year behind their better-off peers by age five (MCS).
  • A comparison of data from NCDS and the 1970 British Cohort Study found a strong link between teenage poverty and adult poverty. The study also found that this relationship has strengthened over time. Poor teenagers in the 1970s were twice as likely to be poor adults as better-off teenagers. In the 1980s, poor teenagers were almost four times more likely to be poor as adults.
  • Evidence from the 1958 and 1970 cohorts suggests the social gap in entry to the top professions has widened over time. Those who become lawyers or doctors come from substantially richer families that those who become engineers or nurses. While those in top professions are of higher ability than average, this trend has decreased over time.

The ESRC briefings present these and other key findings and propose possible policy interventions that could help break the cycle of social immobility.

Read all five briefings on the ESRC website.

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