Children of unemployed parents struggle at school and in finding work themselves, study finds

9 October 2012

Growing up in a household with unemployed parents can negatively affect young children’s attainment at school and can increase teenagers’ likelihood of not being in education, employment or training (NEET), new research suggests.

In a study for the Department for Education, researchers from the Institute of Education and the National Centre for Social Research analysed data from two leading longitudinal studies: the Millennium Cohort Study and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. They found that seven-year-olds in workless households had poorer results in Key Stage 1 writing, reading, maths and science. These children also had lower cognitive ability and more behavioural problems. Teenagers from workless households had lower total GCSE scores and were at increased risk of being NEET between the ages of 15 to 18.

This study is one of the first to consider how the timing and length of periods of worklessness change the outcomes for children and teenagers. Young children whose parents were persistently unemployed were more likely to experience negative outcomes at age seven. The same was not true for teenagers – those whose parents were only temporarily unemployed actually had increased chances of being NEET.

However, the relationship between such outcomes and parental worklessness was significantly reduced or eliminated when other factors were taken into consideration. Nearly all negative outcomes can be explained at least in part by other characteristics common to workless families, including poverty, long-term parental illness and parents with low level qualifications.

The report’s authors said these findings clearly show that “policy needs to not only target getting parents back into work but to address the other risks that these children and their families face.”

Read the full report

Barnes, M., Brown, V., Parsons, S., Ross, A., Schoon, I. and Vignoles, A. (2012) Intergenerational transmission of worklessness: Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. Research Report DFE-RR234. London: Department for Education.