Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summary of our third ESRC Workshop on "Early Life Influences on Later Life Health and Economic Outcomes" (19/9/14)

Thanks everybody for attending our third ESRC workshop on “Early Life Influences on Later Life Health and Economic Outcomes” in Stirling on Friday September 19th. It was the third of our six workshops funded by the ESRC that take place in 2014/15.

We had very interesting presentations about new and exiting research that uses the growing data resources available in the UK Data Archive and comparable international depositories. 

The abstracts of the talks, pictures, and some links for further reading are below. Details of future workshops will be provided via the mailing list, the blog and our twitter account.


Fionnuala O'Reilly (Stirling University) presented Associations between childhood self-regulation and adult socioeconomic status (with Michael Daly and Liam Delaney).

Uncovering the childhood determinants of socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood is an important social goal. In this paper, we utilised the British Cohort Study (N = 6,700) to examine the association between childhood self-regulation and a set of socioeconomic factors measured in adulthood, adjusting for a range of important potential confounding variables including childhood cognitive ability and parental SES. Specifically, we tested the association between self-regulation at age 10 and the cohort members' income, social class, educational attainment, home ownership and self-ratings of their financial position at age 30 and 42.

We found that higher self-regulation at age 10 had a substantial and significant association with better SES outcomes at both age 30 and 42. On average a 1 SD increase in childhood self-regulation was associated with a 0.13 SD increase in adult SES; an effect size comparable to that of a 1 SD increase in childhood cognitive ability (0.17 SD). On average 30% of the relationship between childhood self-regulation and adult SES was explained by educational attainment. Finally, we found that childhood self-regulation acts as a medium through which individuals may attain higher social standing, both inter-generationally and over the course of their own lives.

Dr. Michael Daly (Stirling University) presented Poor childhood self-discipline predicts physiological dysregulation in midlife (with Liam Delaney).

Childhood self-discipline emerges early, is malleable, and could contribute substantially to a healthy life. The present study examined associations between self-discipline at ages 7 and 11 and physiological dysregulation in middle age. Participants were 6,878 British men and women born in March 1958 who took part in the National Child Development Study. Self-discipline was gauged using a 13-item teacher-rated scale from the Bristol Social Adjustment Guide assessing concentration (e.g. ‘cannot attend or concentrate for long’), perseverance (e.g. ‘can never stick at anything long’), restlessness and impulsive behaviour (e.g. ‘constantly needs petty correction’). Blood plasma samples and anthropometric data were collected and analysed using standard procedures at age 45. An overall physiological dysregulation index was derived from a set of 12 biological variables: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index, waist/hip ratio, C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, Von Willebrand factor, glycosylated haemoglobin, tissue plasminogen activator, and peak flow (Cronbach’s α = .76).

Higher levels of self-discipline were significantly associated with lower physiological dysregulation (B = -.073, SE = .013; β = -.073; t = -5.80, p < .001), after controlling for sex, intelligence at age 11, and socioeconomic status at birth. This association was relatively unaffected  by further adjustment for a large set of childhood controls (B = -.068, SE = .017; β = -.068; t = -5.30, p < .001) including parental characteristics (e.g. age, mother’s education), family difficulties (e.g. housing, financial), aspects of the home environment (e.g. region, crowding), conditions at birth (e.g. birth weight, breast feeding), physician assessed medical conditions (e.g. asthma, emotional maladjustment, diabetes) and relative weight at age 7. By adjusting for a broad set of important covariates in a large-scale representative cohort these analyses provide robust evidence that childhood self-discipline is associated with long-run health effects that cannot be attributed to other psychological factors like intelligence or emotional problems or to initial health or environmental conditions.

Professor Markus Jokela (University of Helsinki) presented Adolescent verbal ability and health outcomes in the British Household Panel Survey

Dr. Iris Kesternich (Munich) presented Early-life circumstances predict measures of trust attitudes among adults (with Maximiiana Hörl, Jim Smith & Joachim Winter).

Trust in strangers plays a decisive role in economic interactions, and at the same time it shows substantial heterogeneity across individuals. The sources of this individual-level variation are largely unknown. This paper investigates whether a major shock experienced in childhood can permanently shape preferences for trust. We relate a measure of trust in strangers available for a nationally representative sample of the German population to exposure to a hunger episode after the Second World War. We collected data on caloric rations that vary by month and across regions to capture exposure to hunger. We find that trust is significantly diminished for those more affected by the hunger episode.

Mark Egan (Stirling University) presented Childhood psychological distress and youth unemployment: evidence from three cohort studies (with Michael Daly & Liam Delaney)

The effect of childhood mental health on later unemployment has not yet been established. This presentation reviews recent work examining whether childhood psychological distress places young people at high risk of subsequent unemployment and whether the presence of economic recession strengthens this relationship. We investigate these relationships using three nationally-representative cohort studies - 19,377 individuals from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) and the National Child Development Study (NCDS) in Britain and 6,474 individuals from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) in the United States - with a combined total of 3.8m observations. Distress was measured using the General Health Questionnaire at age 14 in the LSYPE, via a teacher-rated measure of depression at age 7 and 11 in the NCDS and with the Mental Health Inventory at age 16-20 in the NLSY97.

There are two main findings. Firstly, children with higher levels of distress went on to experience higher levels of youth unemployment in all cohorts examined. These effects were large, statistically significant and could not be accounted for by early environmental factors, intelligence, or personality characteristics. Secondly, analyses of the 1980 recession in the UK and the 2007 recession in the United States reveals that children with higher levels of distress were disproportionately more likely to become unemployed during the fallout of these economic downturns. These findings point to a previously neglected contribution of childhood mental health to youth unemployment which may be particularly pronounced during times of economic recession. Our findings also suggest a further economic benefit to enhancing the provision of mental health services early in life.

Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (UCL) presented Estimating the influence of life satisfaction and positive affect on later income using sibling fixed-effects (with Andrew Oswald)

The question of whether there is a connection between income and psychological well-being is a long-studied issue across the social, psychological, and behavioral sciences. Much research has found that richer people tend to be happier. However, relatively little attention has been paid to whether happier individuals perform better financially in the first place. This possibility of reverse causality is arguably understudied. Using data from a large US representative panel, we show that adolescents and young adults who report higher life satisfaction or positive affect grow up to earn significantly higher levels of income later in life. We focus on earnings approximately one decade after the person’s well-being is measured; we exploit the availability of sibling clusters to introduce family fixed effects; we account for the human capacity to imagine later socioeconomic outcomes and to anticipate the resulting feelings in current well-being.

The study’s results are robust to the inclusion of controls such as education, intelligence quotient, physical health, height, self-esteem, and later happiness. We consider how psychological well-being may influence income. Sobel–Goodman mediation tests reveal direct and indirect effects that carry the influence from happiness to income. Significant mediating pathways include a higher probability of obtaining a college degree, getting hired and promoted, having higher degrees of optimism and extraversion, and less neuroticism.

Professor Alissa Goodman (Institute of Education) presented Long-term effects of childhood mental and physical health conditions

In this presentation I assess and compare long-term adult socioeconomic status impacts from having experienced psychological and physical health problems in childhood. The research is based on prospective data from the British National Child Development Study, a longitudinal study of a cohort of 17,634 children born in Great Britain during a single week in March 1958. Large effects are found due to childhood psychological problems on the ability of affected children to work and earn as adults and on intergenerational and within generation social mobility. Effects of psychological health disorders during childhood are far more important over a lifetime than childhood physical health problems. There is a strong interrelationship between cognitive development and emotional and behavioural disorders in childhood, which in part explains the significance of childhood psychological problems in later life.

16:15-17:00: Panel discussion

Useful links:

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is responsible for running three of Britain’s internationally-renowned birth cohort studies (NCDS, BCS70, MCS)

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