Social origins, cognitive ability and educational attainment: a birth cohort and life-course perspective

classroom

Funded by: Nuffield Foundation

Start date: 30.06.2015

End date: 2018

Project outline

If we look at individuals who had similar scores on cognitive ability tests at age 10, we find that they go on to differ greatly in their educational attainment. But how far are these differences related to their social origins? This study aims to address this question in detail, with reference to the 21st as well as the 20th century.

The researchers will use data relating to cohorts of children born in 1946, 1958, 1970 and the early 1990s. These datasets contain detailed information on the results of individuals' performance on tests of cognitive ability at around age 10, on their parents' social class, status and education, on their own educational careers through into adult life, and on their academic and vocational qualifications. As part of the project, measures of social origins, cognitive ability and educational attainment have been harmonised across the different datasets. The researchers have produced a series of Data Notes that detail the construction of these measures in the different data sets and provide rich descriptive information on their distribution and covariance. These Data Notes can be viewed and downloaded below. 

For each cohort, the researchers will compare the subsequent educational attainment of children who at around age 10 were of similar ability. They will then ascertain how far differences in their attainment are associated with their social origins.

This question is of major academic interest in the field of social mobility. But it will also shed light on the most effective means of offsetting the effects of disadvantaged social origins on individuals' educational and subsequent socioeconomic attainment.

Betthaeuser, B. and M. Bourne (2016) "Harmonizing the measurement of social origin, cognitive ability and educational attainment in four British population surveys: NCDS, BCS70, LSYPE and ALSPAC.", SOCED Project Data Note 2016-10-11. Download

Bourne, Mollie (2017) "Measuring cognitive ability in the National Child Development Study (NCDS), the British Cohort Study (BCS70), the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), and the Avon Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)". Download

Bourne, Mollie (2016) "Measuring social origin, cognitive ability and educational attainment in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)" . Download

Betthaeuser, B. and M. Bourne (2016) "Measuring social origin, cognitive ability and educational attainment in the British Birth Cohort Study (BCS70).", SOCED Project Data Note 2016-10-04. Download

Bourne, M. and Betthaeuser, B. (2016) "Measuring social origin, cognitive ability and educational attainment in the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE).", SOCED Project Data Note 2016-06-03. Download

Betthaeuser, B. and M. Bourne (2016) "Measuring social origin, cognitive ability and educational attainment in the National Child Development Study (NCDS).", SOCED Project Data Note 2016-08-09. Download

Bourne, M., E. Bukodi, B. Betthaeuser and J. H. Goldthorpe (2017) "‘Persistence of the social’: The role of cognitive ability in mediating the effects of social origins on educational attainment in Britain", (currently under review)  

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