Children of Socially Active Parents have Better Exam Results

In the latest of out podcasts supporting the Royal Economic Society Conference 2008, Romesh Vaitilingam talks to Karl Taylor about how socially active parents choose to be and the effect that can have on their kids.

Parents who are active in various kinds of clubs “from sports to charities, from political parties to religious groups“ may raise the test scores of their children. That is the central finding of new research by Professor Sarah Brown and Dr Karl Taylor presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2008 annual conference.

The report uses data from the National Child Development Study, which has tracked the lives of a representative sample of the British public born in a single week in 1958. It finds that the test scores of children in reading, mathematics and vocabulary tests are positively related to their parents’ level of social participation.

What’s more, the authors argue, this is more than chance correlation. By looking at the activities of parents at the age of 23 and their children’s test scores a decade later, they conclude that a higher level of social activity actively raises children’s attainment.

The relationship between education and social interaction is not surprising since education plays an important role in developing the social skills of children. Reading and writing (for example) are crucial for the ability to communicate and hence engage in social interaction later on in life.

The authors analyse the relationship between social interaction and educational attainment using British cohort data. In particular, the authors explore the relationship between a parent’s level of social interaction (as measured by club membership) and their child’s academic development.

The different types of clubs analysed include: political parties, environmental charities, other charities or voluntary groups, women’s groups, townswomen’s guilds or women’s institutes, parental or school organisations, tenants’ or residents’ associations, trade union or staff associations, and religious organisations.

Because family background is an important determinant of educational attainment, one might predict that the level of formal social activity undertaken by an individual may influence the academic development of their children. Social interaction outside the family may lead to parents being able to access the support and assistance of other individuals and, hence, may benefit parents in bringing up their children.

The study explores whether the children of parents who report relatively high levels of social interaction report relatively high levels of academic achievement.

Children’s scores in reading, mathematics and vocabulary tests are positively associated with the extent of their parents’ formal social interaction thereby highlighting a hitherto neglected influence of social interaction. The results suggest that a lack of social interaction may have adverse intergenerational effects in terms of educational attainment.

Children of parents who engage in relatively low levels of social interaction attain relatively low scores in reading, maths and vocabulary tests. These findings are not affected by how much social interaction exists within the family as well as the social interaction of the child outside the family.

Notes for editors: ˜Social Interaction and Children’s Academic Test Scores: Evidence from the National Child Development Study” by Sarah Brown and Karl Taylor was presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference, 17-19 March 2008.

Sarah Brown and Karl Taylor are at the University of Sheffield

For further information: contact Sarah Brown on 0114 222 3404 (email:; Karl Taylor on 0114 222 3420 (email:; or Romesh Vaitilingam on 07768 661095 (email:

Read more research by Karl Taylor at EconPapers. Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the topics of the economics of education, economics of the family and economic sociology.

One Response to “Children of Socially Active Parents have Better Exam Results”

  1. Nina Greaves Says:

    Thank you for an easy to read interesting article, I feel that I did well at school because I had support from my parents and also the friends of my parents who took an active interest when I talked about school. This blog echoes my thoughts completely.

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