From cradle to career: National Institute Economic Review celebrates cohort studies

2 November 2012

The latest issue of the National Institute Economic Review takes an in-depth look at evidence from the British birth cohort studies, with a special focus on how economic circumstances are transmitted from one generation to the next.

The collection of articles features research based on the three studies run by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education (IOE): the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The articles cover a range of topics, from career opportunities for young people during times of economic hardship to the effects of a mother’s age on her child’s development.

At-risk young people moving from school to work in a recession

Looking at two cohorts who moved from school to work during economic recession, Kathryn Duckworth and Ingrid Schoon of the IOE investigated the role of multiple risk factors in this transition.

The authors analysed data from the 1970 cohort and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), which is following a cohort born in 1989-90. Growing up in social housing was one of several factors that increased the likelihood of not being in education, employment or training (NEET) at age 18 for both cohorts. However this has become significantly more important over time. Young people from the 1970 cohort were 40 per cent more likely to be NEET at 18 if they grew up in social housing. This jumps dramatically to 90 per cent for the LSYPE cohort.

Certain factors helped young people beat these odds, including their own motivations, cognitive ability and part-time employment at age 16. However far fewer young people in LSYPE ‘beat the odds’ than in the 1970 cohort.

The long-term effects of part-time work on women’s careers

Using data from the 1958 cohort, Shirley Dex of the IOE and Erzsébet Bukodi of the University of Oxford found that 50 per cent of women who switched from full-time to part-time work ended up in lower paid, lower status jobs. The women most likely to move down the career ladder were those in the highest paid positions, such as business or financial professionals. Even if they returned to full-time employment, these women often never recovered their previous career status.

How mothers’ age affects children’s development

Denise Hawkes of the University of Greenwich and Heather Joshi of the IOE analysed the extent to which the age of the millennium cohort mothers had had an impact on their children’s outcomes. The children of teenage mums scored lower on cognitive and behavioural assessments at age five than their peers born to older mothers. About one fifth of the difference in scores can be explained by the mothers’ own backgrounds – teenage mums were more likely to come from disadvantaged circumstances themselves. Other factors that contribute to the difference include mother’s qualifications, mother’s mental health and presence of the father.

The value of the studies

In her introduction to the issue, Heather Joshi noted that the cohort studies are “multi-purpose, multi-disciplinary longitudinal databases with a host of applications, separately or in comparison with each other”. She added that the new UK cohort, Life Study, which is set to begin collecting data in 2014, and the CLOSER programme (Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources) will not only carry on the legacy, but also raise the value of these already rich data sets.

Click here to read the full issue of the National Institute Economic Review.