Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Cancelled Projects

Project Title:

Intergenerational aspects of social-mobility: What affects children’s educational choices?

Project Number:



Marta Odendal (University of Stirling)
Sascha Becker (University of Warwick)
David Bell (University of Stirling)
Stephan Heblich (University of Stirling)
Sian O'Hare (University of Stirling)

Start Date:


A large body of research finds a strong link between education and economic growth (Woessmann and Hanushek 2008). Aghion et al. (2009) argue that developed countries benefit the most from increased university education because of its positive effect on innovative activities. The contribution of education to the growth of economy suggests that our study could have important policy applications when it comes to promoting education.
Existing research suggests that what drives children’s school and educational performance can be divided into 3 main groups of factors. The first is a mixture of individual abilities, i.e. cognitive and non-cognitive skills (e.g. Heckman et al. 2006) which cannot be studied using the SLS. The second is family background effects (e.g. Machin and Vignoles 2004) and the third is neighborhood effects (e.g. Gibbons 2002 or Black 1999). This project will add to existing research on these last two groups of factors:

Family Background Effects

  • Background events of the individual (eg teen pregnancy, qualificationes gained etc)
  • Household and family background including information on siblings and parents (eg Tenure, household type and composition)

Neighborhood Effects
A spatial approach is often an important additional tool in socio-economic analysis as it allows for controlling for different effects than normal statistical analysis does (e.g. Gibbons 2002). Here, apart from the geographical variables, SLS ecological variables will be useful in selecting areas with particular levels of depravation using Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. The differences in socio-economic mobility between rural and urban areas and between highly populated and scarcely populated areas will be investigated as the issue of access to opportunities.

The research so far does not suggest which one of these factors has determining power, as the results presented in journals so far depend only on the types of statistical models used. We will be able to test the relative importance of family background and neighbourhood effects as explanation for children’s educational choices, by looking at all potential causes.

The goal of our research project is to analyse education as a determinant of socio-economic mobility. Socio-economic mobility is usually measured as the difference between a child’s education level and their parents’. We will investigate the following hypotheses:

1. the relationship between educational attainment and:

  • family (including household characteristics and siblings information),
  • parental background including education, ethnicity, religion
  • personal background circumstances

2. relationship between educational attainment and the neighbourhood of the household.

These hypotheses have been tested previously, but separately, and they give conflicting results. We intend to test these hypotheses against each other in order to identify the most important influence on intergenerational socio-economic mobility.

Finally, for a subset of the sample, we will examine school performance to investigate how early in life a child’s socio-economic mobility is determined.


Aghion, Philippe, Caroline M. Hoxby, and Jerome Vandenbussche (2009): "The Causal Impact of Education on Economic Growth: Evidence from U.S." Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Black, Sandra (1999): "Do Better Schools Matter? Parental Valuation of Elementary Education." Quarterly Journal of Economics 114(2), 577-599.

Gibbons, Stephen (2002): "Neighbourhood Effects on Educational Achievement: Evidence from the Census and National Child Development Study." Centre For Economics of Education. LSE.

Hanushek, Eric A. and Ludger Woessmann (2008): "The Role of Cognitive Skills in Economic Development." Journal of Economic Literature 46(3), 607-668.

Heckman, James J., Jora Stixrud and Sergio Urzua (2006): "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior." Journal of Labor Economics 24(3), 411-482.

Machin, Stephan and Anna Vignoles (2004): "Educational Inequalities: The Widening Socio-Economic Gap." Fiscal Studies 25( 2) 107-128.

Nickell, Stephen (2004): "Poverty and Worklessness in Britain." The Economic Journal 114(March), C1-C25.

Walker, Ian and Yu Zhu (2007): "The Labour Market Effects of Qualifications with Special Reference to Scotland: An Econometric Analysis of Labour Force Survey Data." Futureskills Scotland.

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