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Intergenerational continuity and discontinuity in cognitive ability: the first offspring of the British 1946 birth cohort

Byford, M.; (2009) Intergenerational continuity and discontinuity in cognitive ability: the first offspring of the British 1946 birth cohort. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Cognitive development in childhood is a key factor affecting adult life chances, including educational and occupational success. Intergenerational continuity in cognitive ability is often observed. Thus the persistence of poor cognitive outcomes across generations may lead to a ‘cycle of disadvantage’ that is difficult to break. In this thesis, intergenerational associations in cognitive ability between parents and first-born offspring were examined longitudinally. 1,690 members of the British 1946 birth cohort with at least one offspring constituted the study sample. Cognitive ability was measured at age eight years in parents and offspring. Social mobility and parenting practices were examined for their affects on the transmission of cognitive ability across generations. Offspring of parents who improved upon the occupational social class of their own fathers by the time they were aged 26, as well as offspring of parents who remained in a non-manual class, had higher cognitive scores than those whose parents remained in a manual social class, or who showed negative intergenerational mobility. Upwardly mobile and stable non-manual parents were also more likely to use positive parenting practices. Four measures of parenting were shown to mediate part of the intergenerational relationship in cognitive ability. The intellectual home environment, parental aspirations and cognitive stimulation were positively related with cognitive outcomes in the second generation, while coercive discipline was negatively associated with offspring ability. Path analyses revealed that maternal education, but not occupation, was an important predictor of offspring cognition. The educational attainment of fathers indirectly influenced the cognitive development of the next generation through its effect on occupational social class. For those parents with the lowest and highest ability scores, the quality of the intellectual environment enabled their offspring to ‘escape’ or replicate parental cognitive ability respectively. Cognitive stimulation and paternal aspirations helped offspring to avoid repeating the poor cognitive outcomes of their parents. These data add to the relatively few studies that examine intergenerational continuity and discontinuity in cognitive ability. The results provide a basis for understanding some of the processes by which parenting practices may influence intergenerational relationships.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Intergenerational continuity and discontinuity in cognitive ability: the first offspring of the British 1946 birth cohort
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care > Epidemiology and Public Health

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