Direct and indirect links between children’s socio-economic status and education: pathways via mental health, attitude, and cognition

Edwin S. Dalmaijer*, Sophie G. Gibbons, Giacomo Bignardi, Alexander L. Anwyl-Irvine, Roma Siugzdaite, Tess A. Smith, Stepheni Uh, Amy Johnson, Duncan E. Astle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

A child’s socio-economic environment can profoundly affect their development. While existing literature focusses on simplified metrics and pair-wise relations between few variables, we aimed to capture complex interrelationships between several relevant domains using a broad assessment of 519 children aged 7–9 years. Our analyses comprised three multivariate techniques that complimented each other, and worked at different levels of granularity. First, an exploratory factor analysis (principal component analysis followed by varimax rotation) revealed that our sample varied along continuous dimensions of cognition, attitude and mental health (from parallel analysis); with potentially emerging dimensions speed and socio-economic status (passed Kaiser’s criterion). Second, k-means cluster analysis showed that children did not group into discrete phenotypes. Third, a network analysis on the basis of bootstrapped partial correlations (confirmed by both cross-validated LASSO and multiple comparisons correction of binarised connection probabilities) uncovered how our developmental measures interconnected: educational outcomes (reading and maths fluency) were directly related to cognition (short-term memory, number sense, processing speed, inhibition). By contrast, mental health (anxiety and depression symptoms) and attitudes (conscientiousness, grit, growth mindset) showed indirect relationships with educational outcomes via cognition. Finally, socio-economic factors (neighbourhood deprivation, family affluence) related directly to educational outcomes, cognition, mental health, and even grit. In sum, cognition is a central cog through which mental health and attitude relate to educational outcomes. However, through direct relations with all components of developmental outcomes, socio-economic status acts as a great ‘unequaliser’.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by grant TWCF0159 from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to DEA, and by grant MC-A0606-5PQ41 from the UK Medical Research Council. SU was supported by the Gates Foundation. We thank Amy Orben for providing comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Funding Information:
This study was supported by grant TWCF0159 from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to DEA, and by grant MC-A0606-5PQ41 from the UK Medical Research Council. SU was supported by the Gates Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Child development
  • Cognitive ability
  • Depression
  • Grit
  • Growth mindset
  • Maths
  • Network analysis
  • Poverty
  • Reading
  • Socioeconomic status

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