The Centre for Longitudal Studies published a report celebrating 50 years of their study of a cohort of British people born on the same week in 1958, We are 50 now. One of the working papers mentioned in the report is of interest for me:
Michael, R. T. (2008) Children’s Reading and Math Skills: The Influence of Family Caring. CLS Working Paper, London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies.
I quote the Implications section:
As suggested above, the evidence here is inadequate to permit drawing policy implications. The notion of “family caring” is measured in these data with considerable potential measurement error. Moreover, while some sensitivity checks against endogeneity have been undertaken, there cannot yet be confidence that one might take these coefficient estimates as unbiased or that the mechanism of causation motivating the paper has been established. That said, the evidence is much more than just “suggestive” and the potential for policy guidance is at least intriguing and arguably real. If either family resources or family caring can supplement an insufficient level of the other, as suggested by Table 10, that fact would provide important potential as a guide to behavior and to social policy. Both the income and the caring indexes show statistically significant and nontrivial relationships with the children’s skills in reading and math, and they do seem to supplement each other and to act additively, even compensatorily. If so, one important potential policy implication derives from the fact that the caring, as measured here, does not “cost money.” Stopping smoking, attending to the pregnancy at an early stage, breastfeeding and even going on outings and holidays with the children are not, of themselves, expensive efforts, however demanding and restricting they may be. Doing most of these caring behaviors is within the grasp of nearly all parents. So unlike the observation that the parent’s own ability in math can contribute to the child’s math skills – a fact that does not easily translate into a policy instrument – parental caring can be modified relatively inexpensively (but not necessarily easily or quickly). If the evidence is that caring behaviors pay dividends in terms of the children’s skills, it may be feasible to persuade many parents of the importance of providing that care and attention.
The evidence suggests that caring for children – by the behaviors reflected in the caring indexes used here – has a substantial correlation with the children’s measured skills in reading and math, and this relationship is separable from the advantages of family resources. Evidence of that association, if persuasive of a causal relation, should encourage parental caring since it is a behavioral strategy that is feasible for almost any parent. Unlike the Norway rat, where the genomic evidence outlined above tracts the physical links between the maternal care-giver’s behavior and the epigenetic modification in the pup’s gene expression that then links to its behavior later on, human parents can be persuaded by information. Caring appears to matter quite a lot. The evidence here should, at a minimum, encourage more effort to nail down this association.
I’ll comment later, I am too busy right now.