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Are there changing socio-economic inequalities in childhood cognitive test performance? Analysis of three British Birth Cohort Studies

27th November 2014 1pm, Room 1/G/8 at Ladywell House, Edinburgh

Roxanne Connelly, University of Edinburgh

There is a large international literature that identifies links between parental social class and cognitive test scores in early childhood, this paper adds to the literature by examining the changing nature of this inequality for groups of children born at different periods in time. We undertake analyses of three of the major British birth cohort studies, The National Child Development Study (1958), The British Cohort Study (1970) and The Millennium Cohort Study (2000/02). Each of these three studies contain some broadly comparable measures of early childhood cognitive skill, in addition to information about the child and their parents. The design and structure of the 1958 and the 1970 cohort studies are comparable and they have been used for stratification and social mobility research, and more generally in cross-cohort comparative research projects. The design and the structure of the Millennium Cohort Study is radically different to the earlier birth cohorts, and therefore comparisons with the earlier two studies are methodologically challenging. A central aspect of this paper is that we develop a strategy for analysing the three cohorts of data within a multivariate framework that appropriately accounts for variation in the design and structure of the datasets. In line with existing research we identify clear links between parental characteristics and cognitive test scores in early childhood. A key feature of the analyses is that by using data from multiple birth cohorts we have been able to investigate temporal changes in this association. The statistical modelling results lead us to argue that the role of cognitive skills, measured by test performances, should be considered in analyses of the routes and trajectories that children embark upon on the way to educational and occupational outcomes in early adult life.