A reassessment of socio-economic gradients in child cognitive development using Growth Mixture Models

Katie Sindall, Patrick Sturgis, Fiona A Steele, George Leckie, Robert French

Research output: Working paper


Recent social and educational policy debate in the UK has been strongly influenced by studies which have found children’s cognitive developmental trajectories to be significantly affected by the socio-economic status of the households into which they were born. Most notably, using data from the 1970 British cohort study, Feinstein (2003) concluded that children from less advantaged backgrounds who scored high on cognitive tests at 22 months had been overtaken at age 5 by children from more advantaged origins, who had scored lower on the baseline test. However, questions have been raised about the methodological robustness of these studies, particularly the possibility that their key findings are, at least in part, an artefact of regression to the mean. In this paper we apply and assess the Growth Mixture Model (GMM) as an alternative approach for identifying and explaining cognitive developmental trajectories in children. We fit GMMs to simulated data and to data from the Millennium Cohort Study to assess the suitability of GMMs for studying socio-economic gradients in developmental trajectories. Our results show that GMMs are able to recover the data generating mechanism using simulated data, where the conventional approach is subject to regression to the mean. Substantively, our MCS findings provide no support for the contention that more initially able children from disadvantaged backgrounds are ‘over-taken’ in cognitive development by less initially able children from more affluent backgrounds. We do, however, find that cognitive developmental trajectories are related to socio-economic status, such that initial class-based inequalities increase over time.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2015

Publication series

NameNational Centre for Research Methods Working Paper


Dive into the research topics of 'A reassessment of socio-economic gradients in child cognitive development using Growth Mixture Models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this