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Family socio-economic status (SES) and child outcomes. Overview of the IFSSOCA Project Research example: How do educational inequalities in ALSPAC compare with those in the US? Elizabeth Washbrook ALSPAC – The First 21 Years Conference 18 April 2012.

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family socio economic status ses and child outcomes
Family socio-economic status (SES) and child outcomes

Overview of the IFSSOCA Project

Research example: How do educational inequalities in ALSPAC compare with those in the US?

Elizabeth Washbrook

ALSPAC – The First 21 Years Conference

18 April 2012

impact of family socio economic status on outcomes in childhood and adolescence ifssoca
Impact of Family Socio-economic Status on Outcomes in Childhood and Adolescence (IFSSOCA)

ESRC-funded project, April 2007-March 2012, £3.6 million

Director: Professor Paul Gregg

Interdisciplinary: Six strands involving researchers from medical, psychiatric and social science backgrounds, in and outside Bristol

Analysis of SES differentials in outcomes from birth to adolescence: risky behaviours, physical and mental health, school performance

  • When do disparities emerge and how do they evolve over time?
  • Why do low SES children have poorer outcomes?
    • Genetic inheritance
    • Parental behaviours
    • Prior development

Methodological innovation

Data development and dissemination

strand 1 high risk behaviours in adolescence leader glyn lewis psychiatry
Strand 1: High risk behaviours in adolescence Leader: Glyn Lewis (Psychiatry)

Study of SES disparities in alcohol and cannabis use; smoking; depression; conduct problems; self harm; sexual health outcomes

Research on

  • Neighbourhood concentrations in risky behaviours
  • Comparison with adolescents in other countries
  • Early psychological markers as predictors of behaviours
  • Melotti, R, Heron, J, Hickman, M, Macleod, J, Araya, R, Lewis, G (2011). Adolescent Alcohol and Tobacco Use and Early Socioeconomic Position: The ALSPAC Birth Cohort. Pediatrics127:e948–e955
strand 2 educational outcomes leader anna vignoles institute of education
Strand 2: Educational outcomesLeader: Anna Vignoles (Institute of Education)

Change and stability in attainment from Key Stages 1 to 4

The effect of being identified as having Special Educational Needs on pupil achievement

Modelling the role of schools in determining pupils’ achievement (fixed vs random effects)

Cognitive trajectories of low and high ability children from different SES groups (the misleading effects of regression to the mean)

Duckworth, K., and Schoon, I. (2010). Progress and attainment during primary school: The roles of literacy, numeracy and self-regulation. Longitudinal and Life Course Studies 1(3): 223-240.

strand 3 physical health leader debbie lawlor epidemiology
Strand 3: Physical healthLeader: Debbie Lawlor (Epidemiology)

The evolution of SES disparities in obesity and height

Prenatal predictors of adverse early childhood development (teen pregnancy alone is not enough)

The use of genetic variants to establish causal effects on educational and social outcomes of weight (none) and height (positive and negative)

Howe LD, Galobardes B, Sattar N, Hingorani AD, Deanfield J, Ness AR, Davey Smith G, Lawlor DA (2010). Are there socioeconomic inequalities in cardiovascular risk factors in childhood, and are they mediated by adiposity? International Journal of Obesity 34(7):1149-59.

strand 4 friendship networks leader simon burgess economics
Strand 4: Friendship networksLeader: Simon Burgess (Economics)

Acquisition, delivery and cleaning of unique data: 5 closest friends of each study child identified by name → network with 6961 links

Similarities between children that lead to friendships (homophily): IQ, aspirations and risky behaviours but not obesity, parental income or social class

Mapping the structure of friendship networks (density, centrality and popularity): structures vary substantially across schools

Burgess, S., and Umaña-Aponte, M. (2011). Raising your sights: the impact of friendship networks on educational aspirations. CMPO Working Paper 11/271, University of Bristol

strand 5 methodology leaders fiona steele education and frank windmeijer economics
Strand 5: MethodologyLeaders: Fiona Steele (Education) and Frank Windmeijer (Economics)

Identification of causal effects and Mendelian randomization (MR) using genetic instrumental variables (IVs)

The importance and treatment of non-random attrition in cohort data

Multilevel models with non-independent residuals

Clarke, PS and Windmeijer, F (2010). Identification of causal effects on binary outcomes using structural mean models. Biostatistics 11(4), 756-770.

strand 6 cross cutting and comparative leader paul gregg social policy
Strand 6: Cross-cutting and comparativeLeader: Paul Gregg (Social Policy)

Comparing disparities in early childhood across countries: US, Canada, Australia

Comparing SES gradients across cohorts in Britain

Mechanisms relating SES to educational outcomes: the role of attitudes, behaviours and beliefs

Relating early SES differentials to adult social mobility

Washbrook, E, Waldfogel, J, Corak, M, Bradbury, B and Ghanghro, A (Forthcoming). The Development of Young Children of Immigrants in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Child Development.


SES Gradients in Skills during the School Years Katherine Magnuson, Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth WashbrookForthcoming in From Parents to Children: The Intergenerational Transmission of Advantage.J. Ermisch, M. Jäntti, & T. Smeeding (eds)

Focus is the evolution of SES disparities in school achievement between 4 and 14 in ALSPAC and a contemporaneous US cohort

Research questions

  • Do SES gaps at school entry widen, narrow or remain constant through the school years?
  • Does the pattern differ across countries? Across schooling stages (e.g. the primary/secondary transition in the UK)?


  • Maths and reading achievement at Entry Assessment (age 4) and Key Stages 1, 2, and 3 (ages 7, 11, 14)
  • Quintiles (fifths) of household income at 33 and 47 months; highest parental qualification in pregnancy

US ECLS-K cohort

  • Nationally representative sample of 15,648 children enrolled in kindergarten in 1998 (b. 1993)
  • Maths and reading achievement directly assessed using IRT methods in Fall and Spring of Kindergarten (ages 5 and 6), 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th grade (ages 7, 9, 11 and 14)
  • Quintiles of household income and highest parental qualification at baseline

Multiple imputation used to deal with missing data (ALSPAC pupils in state schools at least once, N=12,986)



Evidence of widening academic achievement gaps in ALSPAC between 7 and 14, with greater widening after age 11.

This holds for maths and reading, for income and education, and for raw and standardized scores.

We hypothesize this is related to greater sorting at the secondary than the primary level.

US gaps are larger at school entry. Inequalities narrow in the first years of schooling, then return to their original values by age 14.

The rapid growth in inequality of outcomes in Britain after age 11 does not appear to hold in the US in the same way.