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Abstract:

CEE/Education and Skills Programme Discussion Paper
Parents' Basic Skills and Childrens' Cognitive Outcomes
Elena Meschi, Anna Vignoles and Augustin de Coulon
December 2008
Paper No' CEEDP0104:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: I21;J13;J24


Tags: basic skills; intergenerational transfer; education

The main aim of this paper is to assess how parents’ literacy and numeracy affect the cognitive skill of their children. The data used are from the British Cohort Survey (BCS) which provides in 2004 basic skill assessments for all cohort members and cognitive tests for their children. We find strong evidence that parents with higher basic skills have children who perform better in cognitive achievement tests. This result is robust to the inclusion of a wide range of factors, including family characteristics (socio-professional status, qualifications and income levels of the parents), family structure (number of siblings, lone parenthood), child characteristics (gender, age, whether first born, number of siblings) and even parents’ own early cognitive ability as measured at age 5. We estimate a model where cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of the children are simultaneously determined by their parents’ basic skills and other characteristics (using a SURE approach). We find that parents’ basic skills explain only their children’s cognitive skills, and not their non-cognitive outcomes. We suggest this provides some support for the proposition that parents’ basic skills are having a genuinely causal impact on children’s cognitive skills rather than simply being correlated with other unobserved parental characteristics that improve child achievement.