Explaining gaps by parental education in children’s early language and social outcomes at age 3–4 years: evidence from harmonised data from three countries

Anna Volodina*, Sabine Weinert, Elizabeth Washbrook, Jane Waldfogel, Sarah Jiyoon Kwon, Yi Wang, Valentina Perinetti Casoni

*Corresponding author for this work

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

6 Citations (Scopus)


Child outcomes vary by family’s socioeconomic status (SES). Research on explanatory factors underlying early SES-related disparities has mainly focused on specific child outcomes (e.g., language skills) and selected influencing factors in single countries often with a focus on individual differences but not explicitly on early SES-related gaps. This study uses harmonised data from longitudinal large-scale studies conducted in the United Kingdom, United States, and Germany to examine parental education-related gaps in early child language and social skills. Twelve theoretically proposed family-, child-, and childcare-related factors were systematically evaluated as explanatory factors. In all countries, parental education-related gaps were particularly pronounced for early child language compared to social skills. In the decomposition analyses, the home learning environment was the only measure that significantly explained gaps in all child outcomes across all countries. Early centre-based care attendance, family income, and maternal age at childbirth contributed to gaps in child outcomes with the specific pattern of results varying across outcomes and countries. Maternal depressive feelings significantly contributed only to explaining gaps in children’s social skills. Thus, while some mechanisms found to underpin early parental education-related gaps can be generalized from single-country, single-domain studies, others are outcome- and context-specific.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Germany: This paper uses data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS): Starting Cohort 1 – Newborns, https://doi.org/10.5157/NEPS:SC1:6.0.0 . From 2008 to 2013, NEPS data were collected as part of the Framework Programme for the Promotion of Empirical Educational Research funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). As of 2014, the NEPS survey is carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi) at the University of Bamberg in cooperation with a nationwide network.

Funding Information:
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. This research was undertaken as part of the Development of Inequalities in Child Educational Achievement: A Six Country Study (DICE) project, funded under the Open Research Area (ORA) Round 5 Funding Scheme. We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Grant ES/S015191/1, United Kingdom) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Germany, WE 1478/12–1). Jane Waldfogel also gratefully acknowledges support from the Columbia Population Research Center which is funded by NICHD 2P2CHD058486. We also acknowledge the following data sources:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Cross-country comparisons
  • Harmonisation
  • Language skills
  • Parental education
  • Social skills


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