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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The influence of childhood IQ and education on social mobility in the Newcastle Thousand Families birth cohort

Lynne F Forrest1, Susan Hodgson1, Louise Parker2 and Mark S Pearce3*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Baddiley Clarke Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4AX, UK

2 Departments of Medicine and Paediatrics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

3 Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Sir James Spence Institute, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4LP, UK

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:895  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-895

Published: 25 November 2011

Abstract

Background

It has been suggested that social, educational, cultural and physical factors in childhood and early adulthood may influence the chances and direction of social mobility, the movement of an individual between social classes over his/her life-course. This study examined the association of such factors with intra-generational and inter-generational social mobility within the Newcastle Thousand Families 1947 birth cohort.

Methods

Multivariable logistic regression was used to examine the potential association of sex, housing conditions at age 5 years, childhood IQ, achieved education level, adult height and adverse events in early childhood with upward and downward social mobility.

Results

Childhood IQ and achieved education level were significantly and independently associated with upward mobility between the ages of 5 and 49-51 years. Only education was significantly associated (positively) with upward social mobility between 5 and 25 years, and only childhood IQ (again positively) with upward social mobility between 25 and 49-51 years. Childhood IQ was significantly negatively associated with downward social mobility. Adult height, childhood housing conditions, adverse events in childhood and sex were not significant determinants of upward or downward social mobility in this cohort.

Conclusions

As upward social mobility has been associated with better health as well as more general benefits to society, supportive measures to improve childhood circumstances that could result in increased IQ and educational attainment may have long-term population health and wellbeing benefits.

Keywords:
social mobility; education; childhood IQ; social class