Breaking the cycle of disadvantage

This policy brief from the RAND Corporation examines the impact of child-targeted interventions in early childhood education and care (ECEC) as well as initiatives to widen access to higher education in Europe, and their impact on social mobility in later years. It provides an overview of research on the topic, discusses various policies, and describes a number of case studies on different programmes and practices.

One example presented is the UK Aim Higher initiative, which focused on children from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in areas characterised by low participation in higher education. The aim of the initiative was two-fold: first, to raise the aspirations of potential candidates, and second, to develop the abilities of under-represented groups so they could apply to college. According to the brief, research suggests that the programme appears to have delivered some improvements in exam results, retention, and progression to higher education. However, there appears to be little evidence that it was successful in influencing participants’ attitudes towards higher education.

Overall, key conclusions of the brief include:

  • In the context of economic uncertainty, investing in high-quality ECEC appears to be an effective evidence-based social policy tool, although it should not be considered a panacea.
  • The level of ECEC provision is very unequal across the EU: to be effective, it needs to be of high quality.
  • One way to break the cycle of disadvantage would be to develop ambitious indicators and policy goals that link ECEC provision for under-represented groups to access to higher education.

Source: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage: Early Childhood Interventions and Progression to Higher Education in Europe (2014), RAND Corporation.

How an inner-city childhood affects adult success

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the US have published results of a study that show “A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories.” As part of the study, the researchers followed nearly 800 Baltimore school children for a quarter of a century – from 1982, the year they entered first grade (age 6-7), until they turned 28 or 29 years old – focusing in particular on those who started in the most disadvantaged settings. Data included interviews with families, teachers, and other community members as the children made their way through elementary, middle, and high school; joined the work force; and started families.

Key findings of the study included:

  • Almost none of the children from low-income families made it through college.
  • Among those who did not attend college, white men from low-income backgrounds found the best-paying jobs.
  • White women from low-income backgrounds benefit financially from marriage and stable live-in partnerships.
  • The most likely to abuse drugs were better-off white men.

Read more about the findings on the Johns Hopkins news website.

Source: The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood (2014), American Sociological Association.

Going to college still pays off

This report from the Pew Research Center explores the current value of going to college. Findings are based on a nationally representative Pew Research Center survey of 2,002 adults in the US, including 630 young adults aged 25-32. The survey captured the views of the adults towards their education, their job, and their experiences in the workforce. To measure how their economic outcomes compare with those of other generations at a comparable age, the Pew Research Center analysed economic data from the US Census Bureau.

According to the report, on virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment – from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the proportion employed full time – young US college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education. In addition, when today’s young adults are compared with previous generations, the disparity in economic outcomes between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling has never been greater in the modern era.

Source: The Rising Cost of Not Going to College (2014), Pew Research Center.

Intergenerational mobility on the up

A new working paper from the Institute of Education explores education and intergenerational mobility. Put simply, do those from the poorer or richer families have the same chance of ending up well-off, and has this situation changed in the decades since the 1950s?

Using data which measures educational inequality for different cohorts at different points in the education system, the authors conclude that the picture has improved for cohorts born after 1980, with absolute improvements in educational attainment closing gaps by family background at several important education milestones.

They found that from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, there has been a reduction in educational inequality at Key Stage 4, a reduction in educational inequality in higher education participation for the youngest cohorts to have reached this stage, and for those born in the late 1990s, this reduction in educational inequality has continued and can be observed in their Key Stage 2 test scores at age 11. They note that this coincides with increased public educational investment, a prescriptive focus on standards, and increasing use of performance tables from the mid-1990s.

However, they say there is little evidence that these improvements have reduced inequality at the highest levels of attainment. If the highest qualifications matter in obtaining the most lucrative jobs, then these findings cast doubt on the idea that a standards agenda alone can encourage mobility.

Source: Education and Intergenerational Mobility: Help or Hindrance? (2014), Institute of Education.

Privileged graduates get the top jobs

New research funded by the UK’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has found that socio-economic status and private schooling still affect an individual’s chance of securing a top job, even when comparing students from the same institution type, taking the same subjects, and with the same degree class.

The study looked at the destinations of over 20,000 young people who graduated from university in England, Scotland, and Wales in 2006/07. It found that socio-economic background was not associated with an increased chance of securing a top job six months after graduation, although graduates who attended private schools were more likely to have secured a top job by this point.

However, three years after graduation those from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who attended private schools were more likely to be in top jobs, including top administrative, professional, and managerial roles in professions such as law.

Source: Mapping the occupational destinations of new graduates (2013), Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

OECD surveys skills across countries and populations

The OECD has launched a new Survey of Adult Skills, which builds on its PISA survey by checking the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills of the adult population. The survey has been completed by 166,000 adults aged 16–65 in 24 countries.

According to the OECD, the central message from the survey is that what people know, and what they can do with what they know, has a huge impact on their life chances. For example, the median hourly wage of workers scoring highly in literacy (eg, make complex inferences from written texts) is 60% higher than those with a low score (eg, read simple texts to locate a single piece of information).

The survey also shows the dramatic changes that have taken place in recent decades, with many countries now catching and out-performing the US and UK. For example, while the literacy scores of young Koreans (16–24) are much higher than their older (55–65) peers, UK literacy scores are the same for both groups.

Despite much attention being paid to differences between countries, the report points out that 90% of the variation in the survey is within countries, with all nations having significant numbers of people with a low level skills.

The report recommends some key points for policy:

  • Provide high-quality initial education and lifelong learning opportunities.
  • Make lifelong learning opportunities accessible to all.
  • Make sure all children have a strong start in education.

Source: OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills (2013), OECD.