Exploring the early environment and childhood development at the second DIAL workshop at Newcastle

Newcastle conference report 13. – 14th January 2020

The second DIAL thematic workshop – Education for Life – was organized on 13th and 14th of January 2020 at the Newcastle University. Researchers from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Finland gathered together to present and discuss their ongoing research. The presentations of this two-day workshop covered topics such as socioeconomic differences in child development, with a special focus on linguistic and behavioural development, preterm babies, maternal mental health and social mobility. The conference finished with a vivid discussion on science communication to political actors and practitioners.

First day

Cramman (SEED) started the first workshop day by presenting findings on the “Monitoring Practical Science in School and Colleges” study conducted in England and Scotland. The results indicate that introducing more practical science, an important material in preparing students for laboratory-based courses at university, did not enhance students’ grades. Instead, many schools struggled to provide the necessary facilities for practical science in general and were unable to introduce more practical science to begin with. Labuschange (SEED) demonstrated in her presentation that language development below or above normal limits at 18 to 48 months is associated with stuttering onset at the age of nine among Dutch children. Kirkman (SEED) investigated the association between class identity and smoking, showing that it remained significant even after controlling for the individual’s economic situation. The results indicate that at least in the UK, class identity can be an important explanation for why smoking is more popular among the working class than the middle class. The next two presentations focused on the risk factors related to preterm birth. Lemola (PremLife) showed that low socioeconomic status and education are associated with a higher risk of preterm birth, but the social gradient has decreased among the latest birth cohorts. Schintzlein (PremLife) showed that especially the mother’s poor mental health during pregnancy increases the risk of having a preterm birth.

The last presentations of the day concentrated on child language skills. Attig (SEED) presented results highlighting how mother’s education, sensitivity and stimulating behaviour as well as mother-child interaction and joint book reading were all associated with better language skills at the age of two among German children. Barone’s (LIFETRACK) presentation dealt with a field experiment that took place in public schools located in low-income districts of the city of Paris. In this study, schoolchildren and their parents were provided with books and information on the benefits of shared book reading. The results showed that especially low educated parents were more responsive to the intervention and their children benefitted the most in terms of improved language skills. Karwath (SEED) demonstrated that poverty has detrimental effects on the child’s early vocabulary and grammar. Lastly, Huang (SEED) presented results on the impact of socioeconomic status on 5 years old’s socio-emotional development via parental distress and behaviour in the UK and Germany. The results show that while socioeconomic status is an important predictor of language development, more precise effects of the socioeconomic status and parental distress and behaviour varied between the countries.

Second day

The second day consisted of presentations, keynote speeches and discussions on possible policy implications and how to reach policy makers. First, Willoughy (SEED) presented on the difficulty in identifying strict thresholds for assessing functional language difficulties. Next, Rush and Law (SEED) talked about the problems related to a common confusion between association and causation and the possible pitfalls in this field; emphasizing the need to understand well the nature of mediation analysis when utilizing it. Next, Jansen (SEED) showed how children’s socio-emotional-, cognitive- and motor-developmental trajectories vary by socioeconomic position (SEP) in the Netherlands. Children from lower SEP families have more developmental problems at baseline, but the inequalities diminish as the children grow. Further, girls outperformed boys in all developmental outcomes across SEP groups.

Anna Vignoles (HuCIAW) held the first keynote speech on socioeconomic differences in the UK educational system, and how this inequality continues in labour market outcomes. She demonstrated that despite the ‘student’s choice’ being the basis of the English educational system, this does not hold. Instead, students’ aspirations, attitudes and actions are greatly influenced by their socioeconomic background, ultimately determining their educational routes. The second keynote speech was given by Paul Bradshaw who presented the collection and updates of the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) as well as the possible impacts of the study findings on policy development.

Lastly, a good hour was spent on discussing science communication to a non-academic audience, and on the possibilities and challenges related to policy briefs. As Tuesday came to an end, some headed home, and some continued with internal projects meetings the next day. Hopefully, everybody was left with an inspiration to continue with the research for the last remaining year of the DIAL projects. We hope to see everyone in future DIAL meetings!


Aleksi Karhula wins the 2019 ALCR Young Scholar Award

DIAL congratulates PhD Aleksi Karhula for winning the 2019 Advances in Life Course Research Young Scholar Award with his paper:

Karhula, A., Erola, J., Raab, M. & Fasang, A. 2019. Destination as a process: Sibling similarity in early socioeconomic trajectories. Advances in Life Course Research, 40: 85-98.

Karhula and his colleagues studied sibling similarity in their early socioeconomic trajectories. A  pronounced similarity in the early socioeconomic trajectories was found, in particular in disadvantaged and advantaged trajectories. The study concludes that social mobility measures that focus solely on final outcomes risk underestimating the full extent of the social origin effects.

You can read the paper here!

Do Nordic countries live up to their promise of creating fairer and more equal societies?

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In the first Episode of Series 2 of our podcast looking at research emerging from the Equal Lives project, we talk to Marika Jalovaara from the University of Türku in Finland and Anette Fasang from Humboldt University in Berlin about their research, Family Life Courses, Gender and Mid-Life earnings. The research explores whether the reputation of Nordic countries for having family friendly policies  that create a fairer and more equal society is deserved. Using register data from Finland, the researchers look at the earnings of adults based on their family lifecourse and reveal 2 groups of young adults who should be a focus for policy makers and researchers going forward. 


Alessandro Di Nallo: Job loss and divorce: worse for disadvantaged couples?

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In Episode 12 of the DIAL Podcast, Alessandro Di Nallo from the University of Lausanne talks about his research looking at the links between job loss and divorce for couples to see if the likelihood of separating is greater for more or less advantaged couples.

The heterogeneous effect of job loss on union dissolution. Panel evidence from Germany, Switzerland and the UK is research presented at the DIAL Mid Term Conference in June 2019.

Dilnoza Muslimova: Birth rank – does it make a difference?

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In Episode 11 of the DIAL Podcast, Dilnoza Muslimova from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam talks about birth rank, genes and how well children get on in life and whether and how parental investment matters. 

Birth rank, genes and later life outcomes was presented at the DIAL Mid Term Conference in June 2019 and is part of the NORFACE-funded project Gene-Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities. 

Michael Grätz: Siblings and their incomes – the same or different over the life course?

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In Episode 10 of the Dial Podcast, Michael Grätz from the University of Stockholm talks about sibling similarity in income and what that tells us about their life chances later on.  The research, which uses Administrative Data in Sweden and is published as a Working Paper, was also presented at the DIAL mid term conference in June 2019. 

Nirosha Varghese: Sleep tight! Does a baby’s sleep matter for how they get on at school later on?

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In Episode 9 of the DIAL Podcast, Nirosha Varghese from Bocconi University discusses her research looking at the links between early childhood sleep and how children get on at school later on.

Further information:

Early childhood sleep and later cognitive human capital is Marie Curie funded research analysing the relationship between early sleep problems and later cognitive outcomes in a life course perspective. It was presented at the DIAL Mid-Term Conference in June 2019.

The many faces of inequality – highlights from the dial mid-term conference

This summary captures a three-day programme of presentations and panel discussions at the mid-term conference organised by Dynamics of Inequality Across the Life-course (DIAL), which took place from 6–8 June 2019 in Turku, Finland. The conference brought together over 90 researchers from many of the DIAL research projects as well as representatives from various international and European institutions such as OECD, COFACE, Eurofound and ETUC. Numerous topics were covered at the conference, including intergenerational inequalities and inequalities related to education, labour market, health, partnership and family-life. The conference was preceded by a pre-conference on “Introduction to the German Socio-economic Panel Study (SOEP)” with Daniel Graeber on Wednesday.

The first conference guests strolled down the sunny streets of Turku and arrived at the beautiful campus area. The conference began with welcoming words from the rector in a lecture hall Mauno Koivisto, named after a sociologist and the ninth President of Finland. Jo Blanden from the University of Surrey delivered the first keynote speech with a topic on new dimensions of intergenerational economic mobility. Blanden described how educational mobility has decreased and educational inequality increased in the United Kingdom. In her talk, Blanden emphasized two main issues: first, she introduced wealth, especially homeownership, as a new dimension for economic inequality. Second, Blanden called for switching the attention back from relative mobility to absolute mobility, which lately has weakened in the UK. The keynote speech was followed by project introductions where 12 out of 13 projects gave a short introduction on their progressions.

First parallel sessions focused on inequality over the life-course and educational and health inequality. Anette Fasang from the EQUALLIVES project presented a paper on life-course typologies across countries. The study revealed the complexity when it comes to country differences: the country context affects the ordering of the events and determines which structures are more advantageous. Ainé Ní Leime from the DAISIE project demonstrated how life-course affects the retirement age differed between occupations and genders. The study concluded that a universal retirement age does not sufficiently take into account the diverse life-courses that vary between these subpopulations, emphasizing a need to recalibrate the retirement age based on new premises. Eyal Bar-Haim from the IMCHILD project investigated income inequality between cohorts across 14 countries. A scarring effect – where difficulties to enter the labour market have life-long effects – was found among most countries for cohorts born after the 1950s.

The second parallel session covered topics such as conceptualizing of mobility, labour market inequality, immigration and ethnic minorities and partnership trajectories. Anders Björklund from the PII project presented a study where they looked at different types of approaches to intergenerational mobility that have been used in studies. While these approaches give different answers to how important family background is in terms of inequality in economic outcomes, all of them could be considered useful and informative. Adrian Adermon from the IMCHILD project presented a study where they bridged two literature traditions, intergenerational mobility and equality of opportunity. He demonstrated with Swedish data how geographical differences in the opportunities can create differences in the intergenerational mobility.

The conference continued on a sunny Friday morning with parallel sessions on topics related to early adulthood processes, secondary level education, parenting and economic insecurity. Wei Huang from the SEED project presented results on the mechanisms underlying the association between social inequality and toddler’s social competence. The results showed that especially high maternal education predicted a toddler’s social competence and the effect was partially mediated by maternal supportive parenting behaviour. High parental education also promoted children’s prosociality and prevented them from peer problems. Second parallel sessions continued with topics on educational inequalities, life-course aspects on mental wellbeing and family life-courses and economic inequalities. Laura Heiskala from LIFETRACK project presented preliminary results on the family background effects on children’s failures in educational transitions within prestige study fields in Finland.

Last sessions on Friday covered social origin influences on education and parental stress effects on intergenerational processes, human capital formation and intersectional inequalities. Friday was finished with a keynote speech on the effects of early-life exposures on health, cognitive, and educational outcomes over the life course by Professor Florencia Torche. Torche presented some fascinating results from her research on the effect of prenatal stress on children’s outcomes. By using a panel survey together with a natural experimental setting, she showed how the early-pregnancy exposure to stressors could have long-term effects on children’s outcomes, and how the children’s ability to ‘catch up’ depends on their socioeconomic advantage.

The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on supporting families to break the cycle of disadvantage. The panellists consisted of Liz Gosme (COFACE), Tracey Burns (OECD), James Law (Newcastle University), Marika Jalovaara (University of Turku) and the session was chaired by Kirsi Sutton (the Trade Union of Education in Finland). The panellists pointed out that to break the cycle of a disadvantage there is a need to intervene in national and local levels to provide meaningful support to families promptly. However, the challenge is to identify, reach and engage the families in need and to provide evidence-based support.

After the second conference day, it was time to head out and enjoy the long daylight and the rare heat we were blessed with. A nice stroll down the river led the conference guests to Koulu, previously functioned as a school for cooks, which served as a place for the conference dinner.

The last day kicked off with parallel sessions on inequalities on the labour market, health behaviours and partnership. Alice Kügler from the PII project presented results on the effect of displacement in manufacturing. The results of how low-skilled workers in manufacturing suffer large wage losses compared to high-skilled workers. Pawel Bukowski from the PII project presented a study on inequality trends in Poland from 1892 to 2015. The results shed light on the interesting development from communism to capitalism, and how Poland changed from one of Europe’s most equal societies to one of the most unequal one within a very short period.

Professor Karl Ulrich Mayer delivered the last keynote speech on “the contribution of life course research to the study of inequality –more questions than answers?”. Mayer presented a vast number of life-course studies conducted on socioeconomic inequalities in education, labour market, health and partnership. Epigenetics was also mentioned as a new and promising comer for the life-course studies. Last but not least, the keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on tackling inequalities in the labour market, with Franz Eiffe (Eurofound), Marina Monaco (ETUC), Alexandra Tzvetkova (European Commission), Susan Harkness (University of Bristol) and the discussion was chaired by Susan Kuivalainen (Finnish Centre for Pensions). The panellists presented several policy implications for diminishing inequality in the labour market such as minimum wage with supportive tax and benefit system, more support for women’s labour market participation and for workers’ wellbeing at work.


Áine Ní Léime: The road to retirement – is it an equal one for people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs?

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In Episode 8 of the DIAL Podcast, Dr Áine Ní Léime from the National University of Ireland talks about her research looking at the work trajectories of people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs and what that means for their health as they approach retirement in a policy context where they are expected to work longer.

Áine is a member of the DIAL programme of research DAISIE project which is using similar methods and approaches to those discussed in this podcast to look at the gendered impacts of policies aimed at extending working life (EWL) in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and  the UK.

Rachel Robinson: Optimist or pessimist? Pre-term personalities and later life chances

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In Episode 7 of the DIAL Podcast, Rachel Robinson from the University of Helsinki discusses her research looking at whether pre-term babies are more likely to be pessimists or optimists and the implications for how they get on as young adults. The research is part of the NORFACE-funded PremLife Project  looking at adaptation and life outcomes of preterm and low birth weight children across the lifespan.

Further information:

Rachel Robinson was discussing research presented at the DIAL Mid-Term Conference in June 2019.