Reading to children helps reduce social inequalities

13 June 2011

New research using MCS data suggests that certain factors – such as reading on a daily basis – can help to reduce the impact of these inequalities on cognitive development.

New research shows that the children of the poorest families are seven to eight times more likely to exhibit serious social and emotional problems than their wealthy peers. Professor Yvonne Kelly of the Institute for Social & Economic Research (ISER), University of Essex was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning about her newly published research on the widening social inequalities among pre-school children, and the role of the home learning environment in reducing these gaps. Based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), Professor Kelly’s study is one of the first to chart the magnitude of inequalities in the pre-school years in the UK today.

Her findings, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, show that the gap in verbal skill development between children from lower income families and their better-off peers widens by no less than 50 per cent between the ages of three and five. Professor Kelly’s research suggests that certain factors – such as reading on a daily basis – can help to reduce the impact of these inequalities on cognitive development. But the ISER team are careful to point out that this by no means completely solves the problem. The home environment only accounts for half of the inequalities gap – once taken into account, children from poorer backgrounds are still four times more likely to have serious socio-emotional difficulties than those from the highest income group.

This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s International Centre for Lifecourse Studies. Professor Kelly and her colleagues analysed data gathered for the age three and age five surveys of the MCS, a longitudinal study of children born across the UK in 2000-01. The study is managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies and funded by the ESRC.

Listen to Professor Kelly’s interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme website.