Children’s Health, Academic Experiences and Qualifications in Adulthood: the Case of Great Britain

  • Margot Jackson


This article considers whether children and adolescents who experience a health problem before and during the educational process are less likely to attain the highest academic and professional qualifications in mid-adulthood. It also examines what factors during the academic process explain the associations, and whether any disadvantage in adulthood changes or remains constant from early to mid-adulthood. I examine this in the context of Great Britain, where the rigid educational structure of the mid-twentieth century increased the consequences of students‟ performance at young ages. Data from the National Child Development Study, collected from a British cohort born in 1958, show that poor health is negatively associated with academic and professional qualifications at points both before the beginning of school and during the educational process. These associations are largely explained by cognitive performance at age 11, before the first important transition point in students‟ academic careers. A seemingly more persistent relationship between maternal smoking and qualifications in midadulthood
is eliminated by considering qualifications earlier in adulthood, suggesting that exposure to smoke during the prenatal period may have a lasting cognitive influence. Finally, although strong relationships exist between childhood health and qualifications at each point in adulthood, I find no evidence that the strength of the relationship changes significantly over the course of adulthood. Overall, the findings add necessary detail to our understanding of the relationship between health and education, and emphasize the need to formally consider the role of early-life health in transmitting social inequality across generations.


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