Parents' skills and children's cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes

A de Coulon, Elena Meschi, Anna Vignoles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Previous research has suggested a positive intergenerational relationship between a parent's childhood cognitive skill level and their own children's skill levels. Yet we also know that individuals' skill levels change during childhood and into adulthood, not least as a result of their education, training and work experience. Thus parents' adult skill levels are potentially as important in predicting the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of their children. The aims of this paper are two fold. Firstly, to assess the strength of the intergenerational correlation between parental skill in adulthood, specifically literacy and numeracy skills, and their children's early skills. The second aim is to assess whether, from a policy perspective, identifying adults with poor basic skills in literacy and numeracy is helpful in devising policies to target children at risk of having poor cognitive and non-cognitive skills. The data used are from the British Cohort Study (BCS), which in 2004 assessed cohort members' adult literacy and numeracy skills and, for a subset of the cohort, the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of their children. We find strong evidence that parents with better numeracy and literacy in adulthood have children who perform better in early cognitive and non-cognitive tests. This finding is not simply due to the positive correlation between parents' early cognitive skills and their adult cognitive skills. Rather, parents' adult skill levels provide additional useful information to help explain their children's early skills in regressions that also control for parents' own early cognitive skills as measured at age five. This paper provides clear support for the notion that identifying parents with poor literacy and numeracy skills can help us predict which children are most at risk of having poor skills themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451 - 474
Number of pages24
JournalEducation Economics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


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