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EIF report

Disadvantage, behaviour and cognitive outcomes: Longitudinal analysis from age 5 to 16

This report explores how behavioural and emotional problems interact with poverty and impact on literacy and numeracy at different ages in a child's life.

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The social and emotional skills we develop as children impact on many of the things we care about in adult life, including adult physical and mental health, employment, and life satisfaction. This report seeks to contribute to current debates about improving social mobility, by presenting newly commissioned research on social and emotional skills, and their interaction with poverty.

The work builds on previous research funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and research funded by EIF, the Cabinet Office and the Social Mobility Commission. It is based on data from the British Cohort Study, a representative sample of children born in 1970, and focuses specifically on behavioural and emotional problems from age 5 to 16.

Alongside this work, we are currently assessing the evidence on specific interventions to determine what works to improve children’s social and emotional skills. Once completed, this will sit alongside our reviews of what works to support couple relationships, promote child development and prevent involvement in gang and youth violence – making a valuable contribution to our growing evidence base on the kinds of support that can generate better outcomes for children and families.

Our results indicate that early behaviour may have a significant influence over future outcomes, especially for children born into poverty. Parental education and maternal mental health are important factors that help drive this relationship, and explain much of its interaction with disadvantage. Assuming the relationships uncovered by this research are genuinely causal, then our results suggest that evidence-based programmes targeted at low-income families – which successfully improved maternal wellbeing, early child behaviour or early learning – could undo much of the socioeconomic disparities in children’s outcomes. Such programmes might take advantage of funding for disadvantaged two-year-olds while being embedded within a wider local early-years system. This would be another tool to consider as part of attempts to promote social mobility and break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.