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


  • Augustin de Coulon
  • Elena Meschi
  • Anna Vignoles


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Augustin de Coulon & Elena Meschi & Anna Vignoles, 2011. "Parents' skills and children's cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(5), pages 451-474, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:edecon:v:19:y:2011:i:5:p:451-474
    DOI: 10.1080/09645292.2010.511829

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Pedro Carneiro & Costas Meghir & Matthias Parey, 2013. "Maternal Education, Home Environments, And The Development Of Children And Adolescents," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11, pages 123-160, January.
    2. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance, 2006. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," Handbook of the Economics of Education, in: Erik Hanushek & F. Welch (ed.),Handbook of the Economics of Education, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 12, pages 697-812, Elsevier.
    3. Anna Vignoles & Augustin De Coulon & Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez, 2011. "The value of basic skills in the British labour market," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 63(1), pages 27-48, January.
    4. Philip Oreopoulos & Marianne E. Page & Ann Huff Stevens, 2003. "Does Human Capital Transfer from Parent to Child? The Intergenerational Effects of Compulsory Schooling," NBER Working Papers 10164, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Sarah Brown & Steven Mcintosh & Karl Taylor, 2011. "Following in Your Parents’ Footsteps? Empirical Analysis of Matched Parent–Offspring Test Scores," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 73(1), pages 40-58, February.
    6. Arnaud Chevalier, 2004. "Parental education and child’s education : a natural experiment," Working Papers 200414, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
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    Cited by:

    1. Peter, Frauke H. & Spieß, C. Katharina, 2016. "Family Instability and Locus of Control in Adolescence," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, pages 1439-1471.
    2. Anna Vignoles, 2016. "What is the economic value of literacy and numeracy?," IZA World of Labor, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), pages 229-229, January.

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