Tuning in to the evidence on inequality over the lifecourse.
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In the final episode of the DIAL podcast we’re looking at what’s been learned from DIAL projects about how and when inequality manifests in our lives and what its longer term consequences might be. We’re joined by Elina Kilpi-Jakonen from the University of Turku in Finland. Elina is the Scientific Coordinator for DIAL and, as the programme draws to a close she reflects on some of the programme’s highlights, key findings and implications for the future.
Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the life course. In series four, we’re looking at what’s been learned from DIAL projects about how and when inequality manifests in our lives, and what its longer-term consequences might be. For this final episode of the series, we’re delighted to be joined by Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, from the University of Turku in Finland. Elina is the scientific co-ordinator for DIAL and today, as the programme draws to a close, she’s here to reflect on some of the program’s highlights, key findings and implications for the future. So welcome, Elina thank you very much indeed, for joining us. Now, first of all, I’m guessing it’s been no mean feat and indeed, I know, it’s been no mean feat, keeping an eye across 13 fantastic research projects with researchers based all over Europe. But just take a minute or two, if you would to remind us of what exactly the DIAL programme is and what it’s involved over the last few years.
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 0:57
So thanks a lot, Chris. The DIAL programme is, as you said, kind of transnational programme. And we’ve had 13 research projects involved. And all of those involve international collaboration. And it’s based in the social sciences and behavioural sciences, financed by NORFACE, which is a research organisation bringing together different funding institutes across Europe. And so the focus of DIAL has been on inequality and in particular inequality across the life course and trying to understand some of the structures of inequality cross nationally and some of the mechanisms kind of producing inequality and and what that means to people and societies as a whole.
Christine Garrington 1:41
Wonder if I can ask you why it has been so important to look not just at inequality, per se, as you were saying there, but at how inequality manifests itself over the life course, because this is an important thing, isn’t it? And indeed how, when and where it sort of accumulates?
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 1:57
Inequality is a really complex and multifaceted issue. And so I think one one part of it is that inequality comes across in many different domains. So it’s important to take into account inequalities, for example, in education, labour market, health, and so on. And then I mean, to really understand where it comes from and what it means it’s important to look at the determinants across time, I mean, both across time for an individual and their parents, and so on, kind of that life course aspect, but also, for countries to see how it develops across time. Inequality isn’t something that just is, I mean, it develops. And so kind of building on that kind of developmental process to really kind of inform us about how we can do something about it, or how we can really kind of understand where it comes from, it’s important to take that into account.
Christine Garrington 2:58
Now, you talked about the programme largely being based in the social sciences. But one of the key things about the project is that we’ve seen researchers from different disciplines as well as different countries coming together to try to tackle, as you say, as you rightly say, this incredibly complex area around inequality, what’s been the thinking there?
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 3:20
Well, I mean, inequality is something that interests a lot of academics working in different disciplines. And, and they come from it from from kind of different angles. And I think, because it is kind of a complex issue, and it’s an issue that kind of manifests itself in different ways. So really building on on the strengths of different disciplines, I think is a key key strength here. So we don’t only look at inequality in one domain, for example, say, say something like education, which would then be kind of a subset of disciplines that tend to be interested in inequality in education, but also how education is linked to inequalities in in other aspects and, and in addition to the kind of different domains that come from different disciplines, also, the ways in which we, we analyse it and building on the strengths and knowledge of different disciplines. I think is key here, key to, to just building a comprehensive picture and learning from each other, as well as as then taking that knowledge forward.
Christine Garrington 4:34
It would be remiss of us not to talk about COVID. And in some ways, it was something of a setback for plans to to stage events and meetings around the the programme of research to get the word out there about it. But it also provided in some respects, a rather unexpected opportunity, didn’t it to use the programme to look at inequality in the context of COVID. So, so tell us a bit about that.
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 4:58
Yeah, so obviously the research programme began before COVID. And so the projects had their their kind of plans of what they wanted to do and the analysis that they were going to do. But given this massive impact that COVID had on on society and and on inequality as well. A lot of projects then decided that this would be a really important aspect to look at and an opportunity also to learn about inequality in a changing societal context. So different projects have taken this into account in different ways. But for example, there’s been kind of really important work on on just what happened to inequality for example, due to lock down and and the economic upheaval of COVID, not just the health implications, but then also using that upheaval, to think about how inequalities might be changed. And for example, so work by Alejandra Rodríguez Sánchez, Suzanne Harkness and Anette Fasang, looking at what happened to housework, during COVID. People were having to stay at home, both parents and children and seeing what happens to inequalities between men and women. And how the, the the number and age of children influences that and kind of what they saw was that obviously, this change in in family habits changed house work habits, but at the same time, when locked down ended a lot of couples returned to normal. So so even though there was a massive shift, and and people behaved differently for a short period of time, we can see that these kind of entrenched habits, then then go back to normal quite quickly.
Christine Garrington 6:43
Yeah, really interesting piece of work that so. And also, despite COVID, you were able to, nevertheless, to involve a great number of stakeholders in in the research, what messages did you receive from them, I wonder about what was emerging?
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 6:58
So yeah, we’ve had some really interesting discussions with stakeholders, both policymakers and then kind of non-governmental organisations involved in both practical work and lobbying as well. And they’ve been really interested in in the work that we’re doing. So in particular, we’ve talked to stakeholders involved in kind of gender inequality work, and how participation in the labour market is unequal between men and women, and in particular, between mothers and fathers. And then we’ve also talked a lot to stakeholders involved in kind of childhood disadvantages, and how different types of children are put at a disadvantage. And what are some of the mechanisms kind of potentially either alleviating those disadvantages, or that are currently making those disadvantages larger, and that would kind of be important to look at. So we’ve kind of talked both about the the bigger picture of inequality, but also some of the mechanisms and obviously, stakeholders are, are often interested in what they can do. And then we’ve also had really good discussions about especially with policymakers also about the kinds of data that going forward, would be needed to, to kind of really analyse these things further. And I think there’s a lot of kind of shared interest in collecting data or making administrative data available for researchers to be able to address inequalities in the future.
Christine Garrington 8:28
Yeah, now a major part of your role, Elina has been to pull together all of these different strands of work in some way to ensure that we get to a, what we hope is a coherent picture of what’s been learned from the programme as a whole. And I wonder whether it’s possible in the short period of time that we have to say what has been learned from the programme as a whole?
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 8:48
Well, that’s no mean feat. To then kind of say what’s been learned because I think there’s such richness in the research coming through and I mean, we’ve only kind of touched upon some of the aspects just now. And so we what we’ve been trying to do is, is bring together kind of thematically, things we’ve learnt in terms of, for example, gender inequalities, as I just mentioned. So So really looking at further at kind of motherhood, penalties and how, how those might be potentially for example, by by further training ameliorated although at the same time, we need to remember that women tend to nowadays have higher education levels than men. So education isn’t always the key here. So also looking at kind of gender and sexual minorities, even though we’ve been making progress in terms of legislation and policy. The discrimination can still be kind of an ongoing issue for people and and kind of the legacy of the past is still a major issue for for LGBT citizens across Europe and even though legislation has progressed a lot to still the practices in terms of, of workplaces or educational institutions aren’t aren’t really catching up necessarily, to such a large extent. And then moving on to kind of a different area, I think there’s been a lot of really interesting work in terms of, of the role of genetics, which is a big new area of research in terms of social sciences, and how that plays into the reproduction of inequalities across generations and over the life course, and how that changes depending on the environment that people live in. So, so we’re learning a lot about so called gene environment interplay, and which is obviously kind of something that social scientists are really keen to look at is the the environmental aspect of, of how genes play out. So so we’re learning a lot about the fact that genes aren’t our destiny as such, but but the the context or the environment matters a lot for that.
Christine Garrington 11:00
Yeah, lots of really fascinating and very, very innovative work that’s going on in that area, for sure. Now, you’re talking about stakeholders a moment ago, you’ve been responsible also for helping to ensure the dissemination of this research to to those non-academics as well as other researchers. So I’m interested to know and I think others will be interested to know what sorts of resources there are available. For those interested to know more, aside from the obviously, the dozens, and I know, there are dozens of journal articles and working papers that have have been produced if you’d like for the scientific community. But what else is there.
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 11:34
Starting from those journal articles, I think we’ve tried to make a kind of effort to make those more accessible in terms of both bringing them all to our website, but also providing summaries that are not just the academic abstract. So even looking at the journal articles, starting from from summaries that are more accessible to everyone involved, and not just researchers in those fields, I mean, abstracts can sometimes be a bit difficult to disentangle. Then bringing together the research we’ve we’ve been producing policy briefs that, I mean, obviously are aimed at policy audiences but I think those bring together thematically some of the research as well in a really nice way. So those are available on the on the website, then obviously, this podcast series, I think is has been a great way of disseminating the research. In addition to that, so we had our final conference last autumn. And some of those videos from the presentations are available still through the website. I mean, there’s both recordings of presentations that bring together entire projects, but also kind of individual, more finely specified research topics. But But in particular, there’s there’s videos of researchers presenting their whole project at the final conference. So I think those are also a great resource.
Christine Garrington 12:57
Yeah, indeed, a wonderful library of materials that people can dip into at their leisure and really catch up on and get to grips with the important things that have emerged from this, this work. So finally, Elina, the ultimate aim of a programme like this is obviously to improve our understanding and knowledge on the one hand and influence change for the good with the understanding on the other. And I wonder if you’re able to say how, I know it’s very difficult, but if you can say how all this important work might feed into the thinking and policies of those seeking to reduce inequalities today, and in the future?
Elina Kilpi-Jakonen 13:32
At the same time as advancing academic knowledge, we definitely have wanted these research results to be relevant for policymakers and to reach policymakers and indeed, kind of other organisations interested in in these types of inequalities and processes. I mean, on the one hand, there has been really great comparative work on the kind of institutional influences that policies in different countries have and I think that’s a really important thing to draw from in terms of, for example, education policy, or family policies for work life balance and the gender inequality in pay so, so looking at the across national differences and comparing countries and then learning from that. But then also, I mean, there’s been really detailed work into kind of the mechanisms of inequality and more specific interventions for example, and how those influence inequality and and then really digging more deeply into how inequality is reproduced and what we might be able to do about that. So for example, work on on parenting and how that reproduces inequalities among children and and then thinking about well, how we might be able to to provide more equitable parenting for children and what we can do about that. So I think there’s, there’s been work on multiple levels that hopefully we’ll be able for policymakers to draw on in terms of developing these things in the future.
Christine Garrington 15:07
Thanks to Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, DIAL’s scientific co-ordinator for joining us for the final episode of this fourth series of the DIAL podcast. You can find all the resources that Elina mentioned in this episode on the DIAL website at www.dynamicsofinequality.org. We hope you enjoyed this episode, which is produced and presented by Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you find your podcasts to access all our earliest series.
In Episode 5 of Series 4 of the DIAL Podcast we’re in conversation with Andreas Peichl, Professor of Macroeconomics and Public Finance at the University of Munich and Principal Investigator of a DIAL project looking at the impact of childhood circumstances on individual outcomes over the life-course (IMCHILD).
In Episode 4 of Series 4 we’re talking to Professor Sakari Lemola from the University of Bielefeld and formerly from the University of Warwick. Sakari is one of the Principal Investigators of the DIAL project PremLife, which has been looking at what factors can provide protection and increase resilience for preterm children’s life course outcomes.
Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the life course. In series four, we’re looking at what’s been learned from DIAL projects about how and when inequality manifests in our lives, and what its longer-term consequences might be. For this episode, we’re delighted to be joined by Professor Sakari Lemola. He’s from the University of Bielefeld and formally from the University of Warwick, and one of the Principal Investigators of the DIAL project, PremLife, which has been looking at what factors can provide protection and increase resilience for preterm children’s life course outcomes. So Sakari, thank-you so much for joining us today. It’s great to have you on the DIAL podcast. I wonder if you can start by telling us a bit more specifically what this project has been investigating and why?
Sakari Lemola 0:45
So the PremLife project has been particularly focused on the role of protective factors for social and educational transitions after preterm birth. Preterm birth is defined as birth before the 37th gestational week. Then there are two further categories one distinguishes between moderately to late preterm children at its birth between the 32nd and 36th gestational week – moderately and late preterm children. But they’re also very preterm children who are born before the 32nd gestational week. So in the PremLife project, we specifically look at both of these groups – the very preterm children and moderately and late preterm children compared to term born children and try to figure out what are their disadvantages they have in their lives? And also, what are protective factors that may improve their outcomes? In some domains they actually do really well when certain protective factors are present.
Christine Garrington 1:50
Can you tell us something about how common preterm births are?
Sakari Lemola 1:54
The incidence of preterm birth has been rising in the last few decades. So in the UK, around 7% of all babies are born preterm each year. This means that two children in an average sized primary school class are likely to have been born preterm and in spite of the advances in neonatal care of preterm birth in the last few decades, and also decreasing mortality rates, which is a very good thing. Negative long term, sequels and consequences of preterm birth have still remained, particularly for very preterm children, those born before the 32nd gestational week that means eight weeks too early or even earlier than that. That leads to medical complications, which often require distressing but life saving treatments frequent are, for instance, neonatal asphyxia, hypoxia due to immature lungs. Necessary treatment involves ventilation, continuous positive airway pressure, surfactant treatment, but also treatment with stress hormones, prenatal corticosteroids treatments to accelerate the long development.
Christine Garrington 3:10
And so Sakari what does life look like for those children compared with their full-term born peers?
Sakari Lemola 3:16
They often have an increased risk for poor cognitive development, they show poor educational outcomes, less favourable employment outcomes in adulthood and increased risk for developing mental health problems. And in the PremLife project, we try to specifically answer the question, first of all, of course, what are protective factors for those born preterm. But also we try to focus also to figure out out about what are the social and emotional development of the preterm birth, particularly related to social relationships, wellbeing and things like self-esteem and self-confidence.
Christine Garrington 3:58
Now, there’s considerable policy interest across Europe and indeed elsewhere and ensuring that obviously, that children get the best possible start and in helping those children who for whatever rate, whatever reason may not get off to the best start. How has your work tied into that sort of policy context would you say?
Sakari Lemola 4:17
In the PremLife project, we particularly aim to answer what can be done by policymakers, by practitioners, stakeholders to improve preterm children’s and adolescent development? So two focal points were, one was on preschool training in math and literacy. The second point was about how schooling should be organised in general. So we compared school systems in Germany, where so called school tracking takes place. That means children are sorted into higher or lower tracks after the first few school years and we compared Germany with the UK and Finland where no school tracking takes place. That means better and the lower performing children remain in their school classes in the UK and in Finland. But children with special needs they receive remedial teaching but they are not sorted into a different school or different school classes. A third focal point was related to physical activity in childhood and adolescence and what role physical activity actually plays for mental health and social emotional development.
Christine Garrington 5:32
A key piece of work from the project involved the assessment of adults who had been born preterm. What was sort of the main thinking, the main driver for for this work?
Sakari Lemola 5:42
Previous work has shown that preterm children have an increased risk for poor cognitive development and they also show poor educational outcomes. And particularly, most work has focused on childhood, but less work on later outcomes like adolescence and also in adulthood. In the PremLife project we have now also focused on adolescence and adulthood. And also particularly, we focused on differences in socio-emotional outcomes in adulthood, particularly regarding social relationships, a topic that has previously been neglected So, children who were born preterm in adolescence and in adulthood, they seem to be less satisfied with their social relationships, they are less likely to be partnered in adulthood, and they are also have decreased fertility so they are less likely to have children on their own later in life.
Christine Garrington 6:44
Okay, and what were the key things then to emerge about how those people who were born preterm faired later on in life?
Sakari Lemola 6:52
So we found out that children born preterm to still show differences compared to their term born peers, when they are grown up particularly. Yeah, they show more mental health problems, particularly anxiety disorders, they show lower wellbeing then full term born children in friendship relationships, they are less likely to experience intimate relationships in adulthood, they are less likely to become parents on their own. Somehow, it is likely that anxiety and shyness play a role which is increased in preterm children, they are more anxious about making a step for instance, in social relationships, and that may lead to lower rates of being partnered and becoming parents themselves.
Christine Garrington 7:47
Okay, now, you made some key recommendations from this. Can you talk about those recommendations and just how practitioners, policymakers and those people born preterm might benefit from from those recommendations?
Sakari Lemola 8:00
With regard to schooling and education outcomes a key recommendation is the importance of early training and early support in math and literacy. So what we found is that preterm children, they appear to disproportionately benefit from preschool training in math and literacy. So, preterm children who perform well in math, reading and writing when entering into school, so very early on age of five, six years, they were more likely to receive GCSE grades that qualify later to go to university than their term bond peers actually. However, it was exactly the other way around for preterm children who perform poorly in math, reading and writing at school entry, they were less likely to get sufficient GCSE grades compared to their term born peers with similar preschool skills. So their skills at school entry, the skills and math, reading and writing appear to be more important for preterm children than for term born children. And that highlights how important early support and rhythm medial teaching plays there. A second point is that school tracking as it happens currently, is it’s the current policy in in Germany, is a negative thing for preterm children probably also for for other children with early difficulties. Where people from a migration background who are not as fluent in German, for instance, as German children so children with more difficulties in school should rather receive remedial teaching but they should not be sorted out into lower performing school tracks as it is currently the case in Germany. We compared it with the outcome of preterm children who go to school in Finland and in the UK, and they seem not to have that. There is no such a negative effect of the school tracking because there is a different policy in the UK and in Finland.
Christine Garrington 10:11
And what about the social and emotional side of their lives? What did you find there Sakari?
Sakari Lemola 10:15
Here we had focused on two factors that appear to be relevant for preterm children. So this involves sensitive parenting on one hand and physical activity and playing sports in childhood and adolescence and preterm born children benefit from both from sensitive parenting and physical activities, such as playing sports. So both factors seem to increase self confidence and have to be considered as protective factors against the negative outcomes of preterm birth, particularly negative outcomes regarding social and emotional development.
Christine Garrington 10:53
So much interesting research to emerge from this project Sakari. I wonder what the key things have been for you, things that have really caught your eye or have been of particular interest to you, things that maybe surprised you?
Sakari Lemola 11:05
I think the key findings and surprising findings are that this early training in math and literacy, writing and reading are disproportionately important for preterm children compared to term born children. And this may generalise also to other children who may have a more difficult start in school for them. Most probably it is important to have early support. A second important finding was related to the school tracking that means the grouping of the children to higher and lower performance levels in school. So this has a particularly negative effect on preterm children, as we found out in Germany with an effect that, of course, isn’t present in the UK where there’s no such good tracking.
Christine Garrington 11:53
Okay, that’s really helpful. Now, you’ve been really active in sharing your findings, not not just with academics, but health practitioners and policymakers. I know what has been the response from them, I’m interested to know.
Sakari Lemola 12:03
So overall, we had very positive feedback from practitioners and policymakers and we are also confident that the messages will be heard, but of course, time will tell what will be applied and what not.
Christine Garrington 12:20
Thanks to Sakari Lemola for discussing the findings and implications of DIAL’s PremLife project. You can find out more about this and other DIAL research on the website at dynamicsofinequality.org. We hope you enjoyed this episode, which is produced and presented by Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you find your podcasts to access earlier and forthcoming episodes.
In Episode 3 of Series 4 of the DIAL Podcast, we are in discussion with Richard Blundell. Richard is the Ricardo Professor of Political Economy at UCL, director of the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the principal investigator of a DIAL project looking at human capital and inequality during adolescence and working life. In this episode we explore the work done by this project tackling inequalities in adolescence and working life.
Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the life course. In series four, we’re looking at what’s been learned from DIAL projects about how and when inequality manifests in our lives and what its longer-term consequences might be. For this episode, we’re delighted to be joined by Richard Blundell, David Ricardo Professor of Political Economy at UCL, and director of the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy at the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Richard is also the principal investigator of a DIAL project, looking at human capital and inequality during adolescence and working life. So welcome, Richard, thank you very much for joining us today.
Richard Blundell 0:40
Thank you, Christine.
Christine Garrington 0:41
I wonder if you can just start by telling us a little more specifically what this project has been investigating and why.
Richard Blundell 0:48
Yeah, I’d be delighted to. What we’re looking at in this project is the evolution of inequality through adolescence and working life. Relating to the education streams, people choose how it affects their outcomes going forward into working life, what happens during working life, what kind of training seems to work, what routes to better jobs are for people who don’t, for example, go to higher education, university. Whether training can offset some of the gender gaps that we’ve been seeing opening up in the labour market, and whether choices in higher education matter for future labour market outcomes. So it’s very much about not the early years of school – there’s another project looking at that, that runs in parallel with our project, similar investigators, we’re working together with them. What we’re looking at here then is from adolescence onwards, and how the inequality evolves during adolescence and working life.
Christine Garrington 1:58
So one area of focus has been women and work really very, very interested in in this, you’ve looked at the gender pay gap, the role of childcare, on women’s ability to return to work, and indeed, on the role of job training, among other things. So what would you say for you are the key things to have emerged from this particular area of work Richard?
Richard Blundell 2:18
Yes, this is obviously absolutely central, the kind of pay gap between men and women and how it opens up through working life is something that’s been really hard to tackle and getting behind this, what are the drivers of it, and how to address it is really key to solving some of the most important inequalities that we see in working life. We’re working with researchers, mainly economists, and education researchers in Norway, in the UK and in France. That’s rather good, because those three countries have rather different systems of routes through education, into work, and different opportunities for women and men as they progress through their working life. And we wanted to understand what those differences could tell us about the gender pay gap. And therefore what policies could be perhaps most useful in addressing the gender pay gap.
Christine Garrington 3:25
There are a couple of key things to come out of this one there.
Richard Blundell 3:28
Some of its, you know, in some sense, pretty obvious. That is that work experience is really important for pay and for earnings as you go through your career for career progression. And of course, when children come along, women spend a fair amount of time not in work, perhaps still in employment on maternity leave, but not actually gaining the work experience that turns out to be so important in career progressions. We’ve kind of known that. But it’s become really acute, even part-time work is really not sufficient for women to keep up at work with their male colleagues. There are two kind of routes to addressing this. One is to provide good quality childcare, that can have two major benefits. One is it can provide good quality inputs and care for children, which is particularly important, especially in disadvantaged families. But it can also allow women to spend more time at work and developing their career profiles. There’s also a very large importance of mothers and fathers spending time with their children. And so when children come along, it’s kind of inevitable, really, that work may take second place, and that there’ll be less time engaged in work experience in progression. And remember, it’s exactly these years in the 20s and early 30s, where all the big career progression is made in working life, and women really fall behind there. So an alternative we’ve been looking at, and it turns out to be rather interesting is to work instead of on work experience, but on the human capital itself, once women come back into work.
Christine Garrington 5:25
So what might that look like in reality, then Richard?
Richard Blundell 5:27
So you can imagine the following scenario, a woman or a man, but unfortunately, it’s particularly typically, the woman who takes time off, once she returns to work, you can imagine her engaging in a training programme, and that can make up some of the loss. Well, we weren’t that optimistic about that to begin with. But we’ve become more optimistic for two reasons, particularly in the UK and in Norway. In Norway, using the Population Register, we can follow people, right the way through their working careers, we can follow the whole of the Norwegian population. It’s an exhaustive data set on everything everybody does – their qualifications, where they’re working, their family structure, and so on. And what we found is that it’s particularly successful for women to who’ve had a child early on in their career to return to some kind of schooling qualifications, and that can have a big boost to their career profiles and address some of the gender gaps that occur. In the UK it turns out similarly, women who returned to work spend quite a bit of time in training. And we found that that training, work related on the job training, it has to be accredited, and it has to be work related, those things have a payoff. And we feel that there’s real room for improving this type of training. It’s all part of designing education and training routes, during your working career, that work much better than the ones we currently have. And boy in in the UK, we’ve been training way behind in the organisation of formal routes into education and training through your working life, especially for those who don’t go to university.
Christine Garrington 7:29
Now, I want to move on to talk about COVID. And obviously, although not expected when your project began, the pandemic, obviously, as well as being a terrible thing for us all did provide, however, what I’m guessing was quite a fascinating and important opportunity to look at the impacts of COVID on on people’s lives in this context of inequality. So what did you, what did you get to focus on there?
Richard Blundell 7:52
Once we were into the first major wave of COVID, it was clear that it was going to exacerbate a lot of the inequalities during adolescence, during education and during working life, let alone health of course. The longer run impact that we’re seeing is on learning – the loss of learning, the loss of school time, the loss of engagement in learning, because of being not able to go to school, those children from deprived families have had much, much more learning loss over this period, than the privilege than children in more privileged families. It suddenly became clear that space was really important. But for learning for children, it was absolutely critical. If children didn’t have a quiet place with good digital access, a good setup for engaging in online classes, then that already put them behind behind. And there’s many studies showing there’s a huge gradient in space, in digital access, in access to these kinds of technologies across the income and and socio economic gradient. Losses have been extremely large, up to half a year of schooling loss for many, many children. The second point is that if you’re at home with educated parents, who are working from home and still have time to interact with you, you’re going to get that input from them. schooling is the great equaliser. It puts children from deprived backgrounds in an environment where they can learn perhaps things that they couldn’t learn at home. And that was taken away. The work on Norway and France shows exactly the same there. So learning loss, huge. This doesn’t usually happen in recessions by the way. This was very, very specific to COVID.
Christine Garrington 9:55
And what about when you looked at matters related to work.
Richard Blundell 9:58
All on the job training, apprenticeships just didn’t happen. In fact, for those in their early careers, you know – 18, 19, 20 – there was an almost complete end to apprenticeships. Apprenticeships fell back by 70% or more for that younger group, exactly the group that I was mentioning before. It’s vital that we get this on the job, accredited training, because they’re the ones not going to university, those going to university have been served rather better. I know from my experience here that we’ve at UCL, we’ve been keeping online classes and activities going at a pretty high level, actually. And the kind of students that we have here, can engage in that quite fully. But that’s very different for a student who didn’t make it to university, and who’s trying to gain their experience and training through apprenticeships, there’s just been no engagement. So this loss of learning has been huge.
Christine Garrington 11:11
I’m interested to know whether women were worse affected than men in this context?
Richard Blundell 11:16
We thought it might affect women more but in fact, overall in employment and what have you, it’s been pretty neutral in the UK, that’s just because of the structure of industry we have here. But it hasn’t been neutral at home. We’ve seen, of course, mothers and fathers both having to do more childcare, because schools have been closed during lockdown, or children have been at home during self-isolation, even in periods without lockdown. But mothers of taken, have borne the brunt of the childcare at home, we followed women and families in surveys throughout COVID. And found that although childcare activities have increased for both male and female parents, there really has been an extra load on women. And again, that’s going to affect their careers, and other aspects of their life going forwards. All those things that we were concerned about before COVID. And that were the absolute centre of this project have all become all the more heightened through COVID. And I think the policy recommendations that have come out of this project are very, very relevant for the post COVID world that we’re now entering.
Christine Garrington 12:41
Yeah, I wonder how how easy it has been? Or how difficult I guess it’s probably the better question to to feed those recommendations in such a fast moving event that COVID has been and, you know, was it possible for that to feed through all of those findings, all of those important things into the policy sort of making cycle in order to try to mitigate some of those impacts? Or, or was that that must have been very challenging.
Richard Blundell 13:09
For policy makers, at least civil servants have been very open, of course, to try and to figure out what’s been going on. And remember, the initial policy responses, at least on simple measures of inequality have been remarkably successful. You know, we haven’t ever had a recession, really, where there’s been so much support thrown into the economy, of course, we’re gonna have to pay for that. But some of the short run impacts, I think were mitigated, what we’ve focused on here, are the longer run ones, you know the the loss of learning, the loss of training, the loss of work experience, they’re not showing up even yet, they’re going to show up in the next few years. And it’s critical, we have an opportunity now to address them. And there is a lot of interest across the whole policy world, and government and around the world. In addressing this. In fact, as part of this project, we fed into the G20 meetings last year in Rome, and a major part of our work was used to suggest a kind of coordinated approach to designing the best interventions now to address what’s been going on with loss of education, and loss of work experience and training across more or less the whole developed world.
Christine Garrington 14:27
Really great to hear that there’s been such an appetite for findings like these important findings to feed into policy, but I guess the devil is in the detail, right?
Richard Blundell 14:37
Unfortunately, these are gonna have to be huge programmes. And the thing about huge programmes is that they can be hugely expensive and not necessarily very effective. We need to get this right. We need to get these education interventions and these training interventions done in the most efficient and effective way. And that’s where we can learn from other countries that do at least some things better, some things worse, we’re all learning from each other. And this project which brought in, you know, Norway, which has a pretty effective system of education and training right across the board, not just for those going to university, which is where we tend to focus. And France, which has, again, a very different system. So we can learn, we can learn from that. But yeah, I see a long impact of COVID, not just long COVID. But it’s hidden a bit at the moment, by the way, because of the uptick in the economy. You know, there’s quite a demand for certain types of jobs, as you’d expect, when there’s, you know, we’re coming out of a big, big recession like that, but I’m pretty sure that that’s hiding these big losses, they will turn up over time. So yeah, there’s, there’s a big hunger for this. We’re feeding a lot of a huge amount and working a lot with Department of Education here with the Treasury on what what should be done with other policy groups. And similarly in Norway, and France.
Christine Garrington 16:08
Now, I know we’ve talked about the labour market a bit, but I wonder whether there’s anything else that you really would like to stress about that side of things, because this was a major part of your work?
Richard Blundell 16:19
We had to invent things on the hoof and everyone was involved in that the furloughs remember, the furlough system didn’t exist. In fact, in the UK, and in many other economies, we’ve not, we’ve not been particularly good at providing general what one might call social insurance. That is, if people fall on hard times get reduced earnings, you know, do we make up the difference? At least in the in the shortish run, we don’t particularly do that very well, in the UK, we target very low incomes. We have a very targeted universal credit and benefit system. So it does prop up incomes at the bottom. And it does that actually quite well. Not always administratively perfectly, but it does it. But if you look at someone who’s on a kind of lower middle income, which is the group that really was hit during COVID, there’s very little support for them. Universal credit doesn’t do a great job, it just doesn’t replace their incomes – the furlough system did it replaced 80% of their income. And, and it was very successful in doing that, to the extent that as I said, you know, income falls and inequality increases didn’t happen in the way they often do during recessions. So in that sense, these policies have been very successful. On the downside, you know, they’re the things I mentioned, they’ve been very good at short run income support, at least for for many groups. But they’ve not been very good yet at addressing these losses in, in human capital investments. And work is about two things. It’s about earning money today. And it’s about in investing in skills that will earn you even more, or give you a better career profile, at least in the future. And it’s those longer term investments that I feel, or a fear of being really left to one side.
Christine Garrington 18:17
I wonder whether you’ve seen anything that relates to how these inequalities manifest in respect of where people live, where they come from, is there something around place that’s quite important as well?
Richard Blundell 18:28
We kind of knew there were geographical differences and differences by family background, it just, you know, we can see that in workings of our society. But I didn’t realise how big they were. And I think it’s been quite a shock to us. It’s not surprising, you know, that the emphasis now is on levelling up, at least it’s suggested it is in education is very important. What we found in this research, you know, looking at how well people do at school, and then into university, if they go there, and then into work is really striking, you know, some areas of the UK, for example, and this would be true in other economies as well, by the way, very few children actually make it to university. Take areas like Grimsby or Skegness those kinds of places we almost think of as left behind communities, children just don’t do so well. And not only that, if they do manage to get into higher education, they often don’t return to those communities. So those communities, once you look at people in work that just have many, many fewer people with higher education qualifications and skills to other areas. Let’s call them the thriving areas, many of which are in the southeast or in the more successful cities. And these differences are really important because they’re having huge impacts in the way people think about their well being levelling up political discourse.
Christine Garrington 20:07
You talked earlier a bit about their fabulous data in Norway that you had available to you. But we’ve also got some great data here in the UK, haven’t we, particularly when it comes to tracking young people through education?
Richard Blundell 20:20
We have the National Pupil database that follows all children through school, through higher education, or through their education and training and into work right up to about the age of 28/29 now. So we’re, and that will go on. So this is a remarkable, a remarkable dataset of the kind that you would typically think of finding only in a Scandinavian country. So this has allowed us to do these differences. And we can look at two children doing exactly the same courses in the same university, and just look at the differences of outcome by parental background and they’re still there, they’re still quite important. So parental background really matters. But so does course choices and university choices. These things, I guess we knew that have a big impact. All these things that people are doing through their their education, and early working lives and at university have a long lasting impact. And many of the differences you can take back to geography, and parental background, and the early education investments. This is really providing a real detail in what’s driving the inequalities that we see at least in working, working careers.
Christine Garrington 21:47
Yeah, on that note, I’d like to put a final question to you really about, you know, for those interested who in tackling inequality, obviously, including yourself and your fellow researchers, the wonderful team that you’ve talked about there. But for those who have responsibility for creating interventions through policy or practice, are there any essential takeaways, implications or recommendations for your project that you’d like to share?
Richard Blundell 22:11
If there’s something we’re going to really have to address the in the UK and elsewhere it’s these geographic divides. It’s what is creating a lot of the political turmoil, I think, whether it be almost in any elections, we’ve seen the left behind areas. You know, the evidence is clear, these geographical divides, by socioeconomic background, and by areas are really important and long lasting. And it’s really up to us to figure out the best ways now, to address them as quickly as possible. They’ve been exacerbated through COVID and so they become even more urgent, I think, in the policy debate.
Christine Garrington 22:56
And I guess my final final question, is there something specific that we should be focusing on?
Richard Blundell 23:03
There’s a lot, but let me just pick on one, it’s a kind of old topic, it’s the it’s the point about good jobs. You can have successful interventions for people who come from, you know, backgrounds or haven’t been quite successful at education investments, you can make better choices during education. And we’ve seen how, with the data and work we’ve been doing, how that can be improved. But it’s really the match of the skills, the firms and the kind of work related nature of these training investments that’s so important. And what we have learned here is that, you know, small interventions on one aspect of this are not going to solve the problems. So you can think of the example of the, of just providing a job. What we’ve seen here is that just providing a job, say, Amazon warehouse job is not really going to help much with career profiles, you really need to match workers, develop their skills, and bring the right kind of firms that can enhance career profiles into these more left behind deprived areas. If we can get that to work, then there’s great hope that we can do something for the careers and wage profiles of people who’ve been doing rather less well than we’d like in society.
Christine Garrington 24:39
Thanks to Richard Blundell for joining us for this episode of the DIAL podcast. You can find out more on the DIAL website at dynamicsofinequality.org and also on the IFS website at ifs.org.uk. Much of the work of Richard and his colleagues has also fed into the Deaton Review on inequality so do take a look there as well. We hope you enjoyed this episode, which is produced and presented by Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts.
In Episode 2 of Series 4 of the DIAL Podcast, we are in discussion with Professor Hans van Kippersluis from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Hans, Professor of Applied Economics, is the Principal Investigator on the DIAL project, Gene Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities, which has used innovative methods and data to explore the interplay between nature and nurture in generating health and education inequalities.
Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL, a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the life course. In series four, we’re looking at what’s been learned from some of the DIAL projects about how and when inequality manifests in our lives, and what its longer term consequences might be. For this second episode of the series, we’re delighted to be joined by Hans van Kippersluis, Professor of Applied Economics at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. And Principal Investigator of the DIAL project, Gene Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities – put more simply nature versus nurture. So Hans, welcome to the podcast. And I wonder if you can start by talking us through what researchers working on this project have actually been looking into.
Hans van Kippersluis 0:42
What we’ve been doing in this project is essentially incorporating the recent availability of genetic data into social science and most prominently economic analysis. And so most of our work has focused on the interplay between genes and the environment. So in the introduction, you mentioned nature versus nurture, but actually more accurately, what we’re doing is nature and nurture jointly into how they shape essentially education and health outcomes. And I think this is also the main innovation of our project, because biologists have studied nature before; social scientists have of course, extensively studied nurture, but not many have studied the interplay, the interaction between the two. And I think this was sort of the main innovation for why we got the funding some five years ago. And so what we have done is mostly studying this interplay. But along the way, we have also made some methodological contributions to a field which is very new. Then we’ve also used genetic data to test all their theories, and also, I think, enrich the framework of equality of opportunity.
Christine Garrington 1:35
Yeah, fantastic project. And as you’ve just said, you’ve made unprecedented use of genomic as well as survey data in the research, tell us a bit more about the information that you’ve been able to access? And how you’ve been able to use it?
Hans van Kippersluis 1:47
Yeah, sure. So the interesting thing is that more and more social science datasets, so data sets that have been traditionally used by social scientists, and these are mostly extensive surveys, are now collecting DNA information from their respondents. And this is often from blood or saliva. And what they did is basically, so more than 99% of DNA is the same across human beings. And so what we are using is only this remaining less than 1% of the variation. And these are called snips. And snips are points of your DNA that differ across human beings. And there’s roughly 1 million of them. And so what we do, basically also other people have done is sort of aggregating these tiny effect sizes into an index. And this is called the polygenic index. And this is telling us something about your genetic predisposition towards a certain outcome. And this is quite interesting, because this data, this new variable, essentially can be added to existing datasets. And so we have a wealth of information that has been collected in the past on surveys on existing data. And then we simply add one indicator, one new variable. This is telling us something about people’s genetic predisposition. And just to be clear, this is not like a deterministic variable. It also exhibits quite a bit of measurement error and noise. But at the group level, and that’s what we have been doing is it sort of does tell us something about your genetic predisposition, and it can help us understand how certain life outcomes like education, like health, are shaped by the interplay between your genetic predisposition and your environment.
Christine Garrington 3:07
Indeed, let’s talk a little bit now then about some of the research findings. And you know, what’s come out of this now, one piece of research we’ve spoken about this actually, in an earlier podcast episode, actually drew links between mothers smoking in pregnancy and their baby’s birth weight. I wonder if you can just sort of summarise that for you what actually came out of that what we learned
Hans van Kippersluis 3:28
this was work with with my PG students, Rita Dias Pereira and colleague Cornelius Rietveld . And for birthweight we knew that maternal smoking is one of the key environmental risk factors. And we also knew from genetic studies that genes matter in determining your birth weight. And so what we did here was essentially looking at the interaction between the two. So can higher polygenic indices protect against maternal smoking? And the answer, unfortunately, perhaps was no, in the sense that we found very, very little interaction between genes and the environmental exposure of maternal smoking. So it seems that both matter, but there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful interaction between the two. So that was, to some extent surprising, but on the other hand, also perhaps logical in the sense that maternal smoking is apparently such a devastating environmental exposure that even higher genetic predisposition cannot protect you from this.
Christine Garrington 4:16
Yeah, really interesting. And anybody who’s interested in that can listen to Rita actually discussing that in series three, Episode Seven, of our DIAL podcast called Mums Who Smoke and their Baby’s Birthweight. So do check that out if you’re interested to know a little bit more about what Rita and all of the all of your colleagues did. Now, there have been some interesting findings Hans from the project around the role of genes in a child’s education and specifically around parental investments. I wonder if you can explain a bit more about what you were looking to understand there.
Hans van Kippersluis 4:50
Yes, yeah, so this is one of my favourites studies. It’s joint work. Also with another PG student Muslimova and my colleagues Stephanie von Hinke, Cornelius Rietveld and Fleur Maddens. And the starting point there was actually a theory of human capital formation from economics. And it dates back all the way to the work of Nobel laureate Gary Becker. And one of the crucial assumptions in that model is that parental investments are complementary to your genetic endowments. And this assumption is actually very hard to test because often we do not have a good measure of endowments. And if we do, it may already be contaminated by parental investment. So many people, for example, use birth weights. But of course, well as we just learned, maternal smoking may have a large effect on your birth weight, so it’s not fully free of your parents’ behaviour. And the other thing is that your parental investments often respond to endowments. So if you have a child with specific needs, of course, parents respond to this. So the problem of testing this assumption is that endowments and investments are actually always very closely entangled. And that makes it very hard to test whether they are complementary or not. So what we did here was using one’s genetic endowment, and that is actually has a very nice property and that it’s fixed at conception, so it cannot be affected by your parental investments. And what we did was using the child’s birth order to proxy for parental investments. So what we know from earlier studies is that firstborns tend to get more parental attentions on average than later points. So this is one after all, because they have undivided attention until the arrival of later borns. And this extra parental investment is actually independent of your endowments. It simply derives from the fact that you have more time if you have one child as opposed to multiple children. So what we did in this study is looking within families comparing siblings that were first born to later borns, and then further analysing whether this firstborn advantage was stronger for firstborn siblings who randomly inherited the higher polygenic index for educatio. I think this was a nice, very unique setting to test this theoretical assumption that parental investments are complements to genetic endowment.
Christine Garrington 6:45
What did you find here? Then what do we learn about the role of genetics in affording in affording certain children advantages later on in life?
Hans van Kippersluis 6:53
So what we found was that indeed, the firstborn effect seems to be stronger for siblings who randomly inherited higher polygenic indices. And I think this is evidence in favour of this theoretical assumption of complementarity between endowments and investments. And it also means that your genetic predisposition cannot just give you a direct advantage. But it also means that this advantage may be kind of amplified by your parental or your teacher investments. And this complementarity, I think also suggests once again, that for disadvantaged children, so the other side of the coin, we need to start very, very early and follow up these early investments also with data investments to make them as productive as possible.
Christine Garrington 7:29
So Hans, some fascinating research and findings. I wonder if there’s been a standout or surprising finding for you from the project.
Hans van Kippersluis 7:36
I think methodologically, what we’ve learned is that there’s still a world to explore in terms of using genetic data in social science, because what we have seen is that polygenic indices can be a great tool to improve our understanding of the things we just talked about. But I think the way we use these polygenic indices, are shall I put this sort of a bit naive, in some sense, because what we do is we first construct a score or an index by regressing an outcome on all of these 1 million individual genetic variants. And as you can imagine, if you do these 1 million regressions, then it will be a lot of noise in these coefficients, and these estimates also come with some uncertainty. And what is surprising to me, what I’ve learned is that many researchers simply sort of seek to use this polygenic index as if it’s some kind of a transferable and deterministic index. And there’s hardly any account in the literature on the uncertainty in this index. And I think what we have done in one paper is actually showing how this uncertainty is sort of leading to different conclusions, because what we did is basically looking at the polygenic index for cardiovascular disease. And in cardiovascular disease, more and more people are using these polygenic indices, this genetic data for personalised decisions regarding, for example, the use of statins. And what we did was sort of constructing six different polygenic indices using different discovery sample using different methods of constructing this polygenic index. And what was fascinating and actually maybe astonishing to see is that only 6% of the individuals are in the top quintile of the polygenic indices, if you look across these six different ways of constructing the same polygenic index. And I think this is fascinating, because it shows that even though polygenic indices are now increasingly being used, apparently it matters a great deal about how you construct these things. And this is one thing we have shown, I think this is quite remarkable, and also an important methodological contribution.
Christine Garrington 9:19
A really important contribution to how this research might develop in the future. Right, absolutely. And then just finally, Hans, I wonder what this all of this work tells us about the interplay between genes in our environment, or, as we’ve talked about nature and nurture, not nature versus nurture, in better understanding and in tackling inequality.
Hans van Kippersluis 9:41
So it’s very hard, I think, to give sort of direct policy leads or implications, but there’s a few leads. One thing is that I think we need to start early. We knew already that inequalities arise early in life. And I think this focus on genetics gives us yet another clue that it’s very important to start early. And also because of the work I mentioned about complementarities, it’s very clear that later investments are more effective if the person has had already more investments early in their life. So that’s clearly one more general policy implication, I think. And I think our work is also showing how sort of genes and environment shaping jointly inequalities. And I think this has important implications for the discussions about equality of opportunity. I mean, if you look at politicians across the entire political spectrum, everybody seems to be agreeing that equality of opportunity is a great thing, and that your health and your income should not depend on your parental background. But let me ask two questions about this. One is, what about your genes? There’s hardly any discussion about whether inequalities that are deriving from genetic advantages or disadvantages are fair or not. And what we’ve also shown in this project is that parental background seems to reinforce genetic advantages. So even if you believe that parental background should not be leading to inequalities and your genes may, then how do you treat the interaction between the two? So I think we should have a clear discussion here a societal discussion about what is fair here. And I think that’s why our research is very important, because 30 years studies have already shown that people’s preferences for redistribution, for example, depends strongly on whether they perceive inequalities as fair or unfair. So I don’t think we are political activists here. But I do think that showing how genes and the environment jointly shape outcomes such as health, education, income, but really help people to make up their own mind as to what they regard as fair or unfair inequalities.
Christine Garrington 11:23
Hans thank you very much some some big advances here. But still some big questions to answer, I guess is the is the summary but fascinating work and thank you for taking time to share it with us. So finally, thanks to Hans van Kippersluis for discussing the findings and implications of DIAL dial project Gene Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities. You can find out more about this and other dial research on the website at www.dynamicsofinequality.org. We hope you enjoyed this episode, which is produced and presented by me Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you find your podcasts to access earlier and forthcoming episodes.
In Episode 1 of Series 4 of the DIAL Podcast we’re in discussion with Professor Kjell Salvanes and Dr Helen Wareham to talk about the impact of inequality on the lives of children. Kjell is the Principal Investigator on Growing up Unequal? The Origins, Dynamics and Lifecycle Consequences of Childhood Inequalities while Helen is a Research Associate on the project Social InEquality and its Effects on Child Development.
Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to inequality over the lifecourse. In Series 4 we’re looking at what’s been learned from DIAL projects about how and when inequality manifests in our lives, and what its longer-term consequences might be. For this first episode of the series, we’re delighted to be joined by Professor Kjell Salvanes and Dr. Helen Wareham to talk about the impact of inequality on the lives of children. Kjell heads up a project called Growing up Unequal? The Origins, Dynamics and Lifecycle Consequences of Childhood Inequalities, while Helen is a research associate on the project, Social InEquality and its Effects on child Development. So Helen, let’s start with the work that you and your team have been doing, looking at how young children are getting on and where inequalities might be occurring. I wonder if you can just start by explaining really a bit more about that the main focus of your project.
Helen Wareham 0:50
So the main focus of SEED, that’s the acronym we have the project is to identify the mechanisms that social inequalities have on children’s, particularly their oral language development, and where we can try and identify what patterns there are in those inequalities, and the impact that it has, and whether those continue throughout children’s lives, and into adulthood as well. We’re a team of around 20 researchers, and we’re quite a broad range of specialists. So we have everything from speech therapists, developmental psychologists, but also medical staff, so ENT, ear, nose and throat specialists. And we’re spread across a number of countries, as well. So there’s a sort of focus around the countries involved in the project. So that’s Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, but also how we can look across those different countries and with broader collaborations with teams in France, the USA and Australia as well.
Christine Garrington 1:44
So tell us a bit about what your team of 20 researchers in all these different countries has been actually doing over the last few years.
Helen Wareham 1:51
In the three main countries for the project, we have really rich cohort data. So that’s where people have been interviewed they’ve there’s been kind of assessments that have happened with children, quite often from birth, and then they’ve been tracked at regular points throughout their lives. And these create really rich data sources. So we can look at what happens in children’s lives and how that then changes over, over time. Because we have this rich data, we’re able to look for really complex novel methods to try and understand the impact that inequalities have on children’s lives over time. And a lot of the work in our projects has been driven by PhD students. They’ve been looking at everything from the impact of slight and mild hearing loss on children. So my colleague Lisanne who’s based at Rostam University in the Erasmus Medical Centre there has found that there’s a significant impact on behavioural and school performance in children where they have the kind of slight or mild hearing loss, that’s all just so clinical, but just enough that it’s obviously then impacting their later life. And then my colleagues, Natalie and Wei have been looking at the interactions between parenting behaviours, and children’s language and behaviour development. And then my colleague, Claudia has been looking particularly at instances of sort of poverty and how that impacts on children’s language development.
Christine Garrington 3:12
I know you’ve been very successful as well Helen in engaging more broadly with this work outside of the research and the academic community.
Helen Wareham 3:20
While we’ve kind of been doing a lot of this very in-depth research, we’ve also been able to engage more broadly with policymakers. Right at the start of this project, through our partnership with the Liveness Association, we were able to meet with some members of the EU Commission to discuss our project. We were given the opportunity as well to comment on some early care and education guidelines that the Commission we’re working on, and that that’s since then been published. So well, yeah, quite a bit of over the last few years I suppose.
Christine Garrington 3:50
So I guess what we’re keen to know, what many people will be keen to know, that is, after all of this work, what would you say are sort of the key things that have emerged that that maybe we didn’t know, before, now, you’ve had this opportunity to delve so deeply into these issues.
Helen Wareham 4:04
There’s sort of three key things that have come out of this. One has been, we’ve really been able to look really in depth at some of these relationships to kind of get an idea about how some of these relationships work. Some of the nuances I said, you know, about parental behaviours and interactions with children. And that’s been great. But then also, I think one of the really key things we found is just how persistent inequality is, and how significantly it impacts on families and then children’s lives and it’s a really it’s not just a persistent relationship. It’s it’s deeply entrenched, in that persistant-ness, it’s very slow to change that. So when we think about inequality, we often think we can make a change and it will kind of happened within someone’s lifetime, when we’re looking at, you know, what happens over the course of a child’s life. But actually to resolve certain inequalities, we’re really looking at some of this being a multi-generational approach that no matter how good a start, we sometimes we’re able to provide all the interventions we can deliver, that isn’t going to necessarily manifest in that child’s lifetime, it could be two, three generations later.
Christine Garrington 5:18
Now that’s all really interesting. I think we’ll come back and talk about that a bit more in a second Helen. And Kjell, I’m guessing that quite a lot of what Helen has just said resonates with, with you. And I know there’s a real synergy between what Helen and her team have been looking at and what your projects been investigating. So let’s just take a step back here and get you to talk us through what it what it is that you’ve been trying to get to grips with.
Kjell Salvanes 5:39
The background for our project is, you know, the increased inequality that we’re seeing in many countries. What we are trying to do is to understand, you know, increase in the socio-economic gradient, as they say, you know, the difference between different groups of people. And in particular, we’re interested in inequality, showing up both in education, but also, in terms of behaviour, you know, crime and stuff like that.
Christine Garrington 6:04
Tell us a bit more about some of the specific things you were looking at, and why.
Kjell Salvanes 6:07
Precisely we try to understand how shocks in a family are affecting their children in different stages of the life of a kid. The other part is, the importance of public policies, let’s say day-care policies, family leave policies, and how that can affect the development of children, and especially what economists call investment in human capital or education or their skills. And also how the dynamics in the families how that is important how, you know, let’s say there is an income shock, because Dad loses his job, how the dynamics in the family being changed, and the role or the mom and the dad, in affecting the children.
Christine Garrington 6:50
I know, you have a fantastic team, largely economists from leading institutions in Norway, France and the UK, but you’re interested in broader things, including health, you know, particularly around child development and, and outcomes. So tell us a little bit more about how you’ve gone about looking into these questions.
Kjell Salvanes 7:10
I mean, we are using data – very detailed registered data from Norway, and France, and also partly now from the UK. And we are combining these type of approaches using registered data, which sort of consists of generations of families, and also combining it with experimental work, interventions, and also surveys.
Christine Garrington 7:35
and what does all this fabulous data and these methods enable you to do?
Kjell Salvanes 7:40
You can look at the whole development of kids from, you know, pre birth basically to, then we can look at adults, but you can also look at up to, let’s say, 60. A lot of what we have been doing is to try to distinguish between the impact of something that is happening early on. It could be a negative shock, it could be policy intervention, or it could be parental decisions early on preschool, you know, middle years of schooling, and then early teenage. We see a lot of differences, you know, before they start school. And then the question is how this interacts with what is happening in the, in the early and later school years. We looking at different types of skills. I mean, you know, so it could be, you know, more the cognitive types of school skills, but it could be also socio emotional skills, how you you know behave.
Christine Garrington 8:36
Indeed and can you talk us through what what’s emerged that you think is of particular interest?
Kjell Salvanes 8:42
You know, one of my colleagues at UCL Gabriella Conti, her work and partly together with us have been looking at early health outcomes for kids, and how that can predict the performance of kids when they are teenagers, but also as adults. So I think that part of the project has been very important. The second thing that I will speak a little bit is that, you know, one of the teams in in Paris, they have looked at training programmes for the children in daycare. So they have actually looked at an intervention among daycare teachers, and trying to set up a programme where they can teach language acquisition skills, you know, from the age of three months to three years. And that also seems to be have had a very positive effect, because, you know, language skills, or skills at the age of five seems to be very predictive of what is going to happen with children as adults. And the third thing that, you know, we’ll talk a little bit about a project that I’ve done myself where we look at the kids growing up that was born to teen moms, which is a big issue in many countries. In the UK, for instance, I think, you know, more than 20% of the kids are being born to teen moms. And how that effect their adult acquisition of human capital and how they how well they perform in the labour market. And what we find there. And I think this is a new finding is that it’s not only the mom that is important, I mean, usually in the literature, you find that this has a negative on average effect on the kids in their later life. What you find here is that the role of the dad is also extremely important. The matching, so to speak in the, in the non-marriage market here, you know, who they get the kids with, is also not without selection. So the selection of kids, for these kids is important. And the role of the dad is also extremely important, not only the mums, which of course, has strong policy implications.
Christine Garrington 10:54
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, on that note, I’d sort of quite like to ask you both really, whether there’s a standout finding from, you know, the wide range of research that both projects have done that you think that everyone who’s interested in tackling inequality from as early as we possibly can, should know and understand. Kjell you want to kick us off?
Kjell Salvanes 11:14
Yes, I mean, we put together these three teams for some reasons, because the let’s say the family policies differs a lot across these three countries. The Norway is one of the Scandinavian countries have a very active family, family policies, parental leave since the mid 70s, and stuff like that, and also daycare coverage 100% now. France is a little bit in between and you know, and not so active family policy in the UK, I have to say so. So there are differences. And what we see is that the impact of family policies on child development seems to be very important. And I think that also has, of course, clear policy implications.
Christine Garrington 11:58
Yeah, Helen, is that I’m guessing that’s something that possibly resonates with with you and your project as well. But is there one particular thing that you think is, it’s really important that everybody takes away from all of this?
Helen Wareham 12:10
Yeah I think, particularly from our projects, and I think Kjell has been sort of saying this as well is about how important it is to realise that right from the start of children’s lives, it’s a vital time, you know, inequality doesn’t wait. It’s right there from the start. So I think, in tackling inequality, knowing and understanding that the inequalities that are there, in families, in parents to be, are then transmitted to their children, and that then affects children’s later life outcomes. And I think what we’ve really learned from our work is we’ve learnt lots of sort of small pieces of information about the kinds of activities parents can be doing, particularly relationships in child development, you know, kind of between the relationship between children’s language development and their socio emotional development. But ultimately, those things are mediated, they’re heavily influenced by wider household opportunity and resource that’s available. And if we aren’t able to ensure that people have those opportunities to interact with their children, to spend time with them to be able to do activities with them. Either because their economic situation doesn’t allow it, or they simply don’t have the space and resources available to do those kinds of play activities, and talking and reading with children then continues the cycle of inequality.
Christine Garrington 13:39
Yeah, no, that’s so interesting and important. And I wonder, so what are the wider implications of these findings? So we talked a lot here about, you know, about policymaking and policy makers and early intervention. But for those sort of seeking to design those interventions to tackle inequality, or even practitioners working in the fields, such as teachers in schools, who may also have a role to play in this, you know, what are the takeaways for them? Helen, you go first, and then I’ll move to Kjell.
Helen Wareham 14:07
I think if I’m honest, this is actually quite a difficult question to answer at the minute. Because inequalities, you know, we see the landscape of inequalities, you know, I think the acronym DIAL referring to inequalities as dynamic, I think, is really useful and interesting, because inequalities react to global events. Which we, you know, we’ve experienced over the last few years and are continuing to see, but kind of inequality at the centre of that doesn’t really change and it hasn’t really changed. And I think that’s something that’s really important to acknowledge that we understand a lot about the nuance and the mechanisms and how inequalities affects people’s lives. But there’s still a fundamental issue at the centre of that about the key factors of inequalities that haven’t changed. And I think then that means as a, as a researcher, I can sort of provide evidence about some of these relationships and even put together interventions that will help children catch up with their language development at a later point. But it doesn’t address the fundamental issue. That kind of we’ve created as a society, you know, where parents aren’t able to spend time with their children, because they’re having to work three in four jobs. So you know, working 14 hour days, to ensure that children have a roof over their heads and are fed. I think it’s a lot to ask of teachers, there’s a lot of strain on teachers already know, they’re kind of going above and beyond, when I think schools are struggling to even heat classrooms. It’s hard to know kind of what to put out there as what policymakers can be doing and practitioners as interventions, when I think we have a kind of responsibility to address those fundamental needs. So I think that means as a researcher, what I have to do is kind of advocate for that greatest viable change. And let people know the you know, the evidence is there of what interventions we can deliver. But we’ve got to get people to a point where they can, you know, parents can spend time with their children, and talk to them and read to them. And children can go to school, and be in an environment where they’re able to accept and receive learning, and people can go to work and feel that they can go and do the job and not have so many other concerns.
Christine Garrington 16:24
Yeah, absolutely. No quick fix no simple answers, right? And Kjell I’m guessing again, a lot of that probably feeds into your thinking too.
Kjell Salvanes 16:34
Yeah, you know, so at least partly, what I tend to find is that there has been strong improvements both along the differences across, you know, in terms of education, you know, from different children from different backgrounds, and also in terms of income. So there has been a lot of improvements, I think that is important to say, but are some areas where, we haven’t seen so much gains, or there has been you know, it’s more difficult, and especially among the very poor, you see also in the Nordic countries, that seems to be very difficult to get them sort of above a certain level. And so there’s a lot of persistence at the bottom across generations. And also at the top, there’s a lot of persistence, you know, the rich, do well independent and the poor do not do that almost independent of policy. So I think, to better understand these two mechanisms, and especially, you know, for the poor, what is it exactly? Why do don’t they take more education? Why do they don’t perform better in the labour market? What is it exactly? Is it lack of resources? Or is, do they have different expectations? They don’t think that they can do it or is it information, they don’t know about it, or they know about it, but cannot do anything about it, let’s say because of the restrictions that Helen mentioned. So I think this is the area where I think we need much more to understand much more what’s going on.
Christine Garrington 18:06
That brings me very nicely to my final question for you both, which is if you’d like is whether you have a feel for what needs to happen now? I mean, you’ve both alluded to it. But you know, both in terms of research, but in terms of how do we move things forward? How do we get to a point at which change can happen? And that’s a difficult one I know, Helen.
Helen Wareham 18:25
It is a difficult one, because I think there’s a lot of structural inequalities that exist. And those are difficult to change. And I think that that’s thing as a sort of longer term view about what needs to happen. Now, and I think we are kind of globally at a very critical point. The pandemic, in particular, I think has highlighted to people the need for certain changes to happen, climate change has been another one where there’s a real need and call for action. And for larger, more structural changes to happen. And I think that can go a long way to addressing kind of very fundamental structural inequalities. And that’s it, it’s, it’s that need to look on a longer term beyond kind of quick wins and marginal gains. And that’s where I think the research around child development, first couple of years of children’s lives are so pivotal, an investment and a shift towards ensuring that children have the best possible start they can in life doesn’t initially pay off. It’s a long term strategy. But it means in 10-20 years time, what we get is a huge payoff in terms of a happier, healthier, more skilled workforce, and a real step towards breaking some of those inequalities. I think a shorter term thing about what could happen right now is I think the education gap we have particularly around those children who have kind of recently finished their kind of national standard level of education during the pandemic, you know, we’ve seen a widening in that education gap. Ensuring that as many children as possible have achieved a national standard of education, I think is is really key because we know that achieving that will create a shift and a potential to kind of open up opportunities for children to be able to go on to further study and improve their education or to be able to enter the workforce at a better point than we are seeing. So I think there’s a real potential, there’s a short term acting to make sure that the children, particularly those affected by the pandemic have been supported and are achieving at least a national standard of education.
Kjell Salvanes 20:33
And one of the things that sort of resonates what Helen is saying is that it has become clear that differences among kids is seen very early on, you know, before they start school. So that means that the family and early years are extremely important. And I think that was not the focus, let’s say 10 years ago, it is the focus now. And I think we need to understand much more about that. So that is one thing you see also increased inequality, not only, you know, in a socio-economic dimension, but also regionally. Certain areas, let’s say in England, Southern England, around London, you know, are prospering. I mean, while other places, let’s say in the north of England, and the same thing in Norway, in the North of Norway and other places, they sort of are falling behind. So I think that dimension is also very important. It’s not one thing that’s going on the different things that are going on, and I think this is also has high has important implication for economic policies, you know, to stabilise those areas.
Christine Garrington 21:36
Thanks to Kjell Salvanes and Helen Wareham for discussing what’s been learned from their respective DIAL projects on this episode of the DIAL podcast, which was presented by me Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts. You can find a range of resources including working papers, journal articles, policy briefs, podcasts and blogs on the DIAL website at dynamicsofinequality.org.
In Episode 16 of Series 3 of the DIAL Podcast we’re discussing ability grouping in UK primary schools and how it affects children’s enjoyment of certain subjects. Our guest today is Queralt Capsada-Munsech from the University of Glasgow, who as part of DIAL’s LIFETRACK project has been looking at primary school children’s enjoyment of English and Maths at age seven, and later at age 11 to see whether ability grouping positively or negatively impacts their enjoyment of those subjects.
Does ability grouping affect UK primary school pupils’ enjoyment of Maths and English? is research by Vikki Boliver and Queralt Capsada-Munsech, and is published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.
Transcript Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune into evidence on inequality over the lifecourse. In this episode, we’re talking about how grouping children by ability at school affects their enjoyment of certain subjects. Our guest is Queralt Capsada-Munsech from the University of Glasgow, who as part of DIAL’s Life Track project has been looking at primary school children’s enjoyment of English and Maths at age seven, and later at age 11 to see whether ability grouping positively or negatively impacts their enjoyment of those subjects.
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 0:29
There are people who are advocates of ability grouping, and their main argument is usually that high ability pupils improve their attainment, while there is no detriment in lower ability, once their academic performance mainly. But you know, the opponents in the general debate of ability grouping, what they say is that high ability students only do marginally better when they are grouped with a, yeah with a group of students that are homogenous to them. While lower ability ones are the ones that are substantially worse off from these ability grouping. And what we have seen mostly in previous research is that there is the main mechanism that we call that is the self-fulfilling prophecy of low attainment that you know, because you are grouping the low ability grouping and people, and students are aware of that. So they just know that they are not doing as well. And they continue to do more poorly while those that are in the high ability grouping, so they think better of themselves. And that leads them to better academic achievement. And usually, the way it has been measured has been based on what we call academic self-concept that basically is asking students, how good are you at maths, at English or at school in general?
Christine Garrington 1:48
So talk us through some of the policy context here – ability grouping as an education policy.
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 1:53
In the gaze of the UK ability grouping was encouraged by the New Labour governments in the 1990s and in the 2000s. And the main idea was that it would raise standards generally, with higher grades in brightest kids in particular, that was something that was quite influential in past decades. And that had clearly an effect in policy because, you know, the prevalence of grouping practices still remains in place. And it increased quite a lot for the past few years. And we see in the UK, even that ability grouping is becoming increasingly common in early years, you know, at ages three and four and even in Key Stage One ages five to seven was, which was something that we didn’t see in the past. While you know, in the 1990s, there were fewer than 3% of primary schools who reported that they were streaming students by 2008 16% of seven year olds, were being streamed by ability for all subjects and 26% were being taught in ability sets for English and Math so that’s quite the change.
Christine Garrington 3:01
What was it for you that you wanted to look at exactly about the way in which children are grouped by ability at primary school? What was it you wanted to look at and why?
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 3:10
Empirical evidence what did show us that at least for the UK suggested that there weren’t many benefits of practising ability grouping. Mainly at the secondary level was most of the studies and it did little to raise the school’s standards, and it was more detrimental for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. And it was through that, you know, measured ability at the early ages is predictive of ability group placement. But so were also a lot of socio-economic indicators. So there were also a few mechanisms, you know, that people were looking at. So for instance, teaching practices or teaching learning environments. So the reason why this happened, that it was more detrimental for some instruments to the individual than others because teacher quality is correlated with ability grouping, meaning that mainly you know, teachers that are more qualified, more experienced tend to be a placed with a high ability grouping, while less experienced in the lower one, which maybe should be the opposite. But also because of students self-perception, so they internalise these labels of consequences for their self-esteem. We could see that there were many studies that had been undertaken at secondary level, but not that many at the primary level. So what we want to talk that was that academic enjoyment so that it would be different question like, how much have you enjoyed reading or doing number work or English or maths more, more precisely.
Christine Garrington 4:45
So why was it important to look at how much children enjoyed subjects? What was it about that particular concept or idea that was was important in your research?
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 4:56
Academic self-concept, the question how good you are at? It’s informed by students awareness of their test scores or their ability group placement, but it’s also a relational construct, you know how good you are compared to the rest of your pupils in your group or in your class. While academic enjoyment, we thought that it was a more an intrinsic motivation and is more of a personal preference, you know, you might like or dislike reading, even if you are very good at English or not. So it’s more of an independent one. And it’s less relational. So it’s not that you enjoy reading compared to your peers, it’s more they do you enjoy it more? Yes or no, or to what extent.
Christine Garrington 5:39
So talk us through what you actually did.
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 5:40
The question that we wanted to look at was looking okay, for instance in primary school at age seven, how much did pupils enjoy Maths or English and school in general? And then to look later on, you know, at age 11, before going to secondary school, how much they enjoy again, Maths, English and school in general. And to see to what extent it had changed from age seven to 11, depending on the ability group that they were in. So we were expecting that, okay, maybe your academic enjoyment of Maths might be different to those that are in the top or bottom ability group. But our hypothesis was that, theoretically, there is no reason for people to change how much they enjoy or not enjoy reading, for instance, from age seven to eleven, regardless of the relative group they are in.
Christine Garrington 6:38
So where did you get your information from? And why was it a good source of data to help you address these questions that you were interested in?
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 6:47
So we use one of the cohort studies that are called, that its the Millennium Cohort Study. But basically, it’s a longitudinal survey that follows about 19,000 people born in the UK in 2000 and 2002, approximately. You have the same people, the same individuals, and they have been surveyed throughout their lifetime. What it was important for us in order to make this comparison is that we would have that data about the same individuals, but also that we would have like similar questions at two points in time. So in this case, for instance, because if we want to check if there is a change or not in academic enjoyment, from age seven to eleven, we needed to have this very same question of academic enjoyment at those two points in times. And in addition, obviously, we had some information about ability grouping. And so.
Christine Garrington 7:41
And when it came to this question of whether being grouped by ability did in some way influence whether a child liked a subject or not, what did you see?
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 7:50
If we start just with the descriptive statistics, we already saw, obviously, that there were some differences. So maybe it’s worth starting by saying that, you know, overall, there was quite a lot of academic enjoyment among students. So the majority of them like a lot Maths, or reading or English, and most of the students so in most cases above 35%, were placed in the high ability one. And students that were placing the low ability one was usually smaller numbers like below 20%. That already gave us an idea of the distribution. But more importantly, yeah, when just looking at some bivariate descriptive statistics, we could see that those that are in high ability groups, tended to enjoy more Maths, for instance, than those that were placed in the low ability group. And that has stayed like, quiet similar when we look at it both at age seven, and eleven. So that’s something that we could see just from the descriptive statistics.
Christine Garrington 9:00
Now you had some very specific findings around maths didn’t you? I wonder if you can talk us through what it was exactly that you saw there.
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 9:07
Being placed in a lower rather than a high ability group at age seven, depress the probability of coming to enjoy continuing to enjoy or even to increasing your enjoyment of Maths by age eleven. And that stayed like this way even after controlling for you know, students measured ability in Maths, sex and social background at age seven. So we found that yeah, really being placed in ability grouping has an influence in your academic enjoyment of Maths. However, we didn’t find quite the same for English and school in general. So, you know, there was this tendency, but once we control for socio-demographic and socio-economic variables, the results weren’t statistically significant. So, we would say that, it’s mainly for maths that we would find some differences or some effects of ability grouping.
Christine Garrington 10:05
Yeah, really, really interesting, though, and I’m gonna take you right back to the beginning of our conversation when you were saying, you know, just how much policy interest there is in this area around, specifically around education policy. What do you feel that we must take away from from this piece of work? And do you think there are any key takeaways specifically for education policy and practice?
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 10:25
Overall, I would say that our findings are very much in line with much of the existing research, which indicates that ability grouping is detrimental to those judged to be of lower ability. And at least we find it in relation to Math. So it’s something to be worried about. And ability grouping by measured ability has a negative influence for those that label as that, as lower ability. And we can see now that it’s for both for academic self concept this idea of how good I am at maths, but also for academic enjoyment is like how much do you enjoy maths? So that can be detrimental if you are put in a lower ability group.
Christine Garrington 11:08
Okay, so that’s the key sort of takeaway message, but what recommendations might you have in this area then?
Queralt Capsada-Munsech 11:14
We are aware that it’s difficult to be in a classroom and that we don’t mean that because they are doing ability grouping they are bad teachers or bad educators. But yeah, I guess it’s something that we’ll have to continue exploring. And while some parts of ability grouping might work for some students or for some teachers overall, I wouldn’t encourage the policy of ability grouping, at least in the UK.
Christine Garrington 11:45
Does ability grouping affect UK primary school pupils’ enjoyment of Maths and English? is research by Vikki Boliver and Queralt Capsada-Munsech, and is published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Thanks for listening to this episode of the DIAL podcast, which was presented by me Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts. You can find out more about all the DIAL projects at dynamicsofinequality.org.
In Episode 15 of Series 3 of the DIAL Podcast we’re discussing LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence. Our guests are Sait Bayrakdar from Kings College London and Andrew King from the University of Surrey who, as part of DIAL’s CILIA project have been using a large cross national survey to look at the experiences of nearly 29,000 people living in Germany the UK and Portugal. LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence in Germany, Portugal and the UK: A quantitative comparative approach is research by Sait Bayrakdar and Andrew King and is published in the journal Current Sociology.
Christine Garrington 0:00
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the lifecourse. In this episode, we’re discussing LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence. Our guests are Sait Bayrakdar from King’s College London and Andrew King from the University of Surrey, who, as part of DIAL’s CILIA project have been using a large cross-national survey to look at the experiences of nearly 29,000 people living in Germany, the UK and Portugal. I asked Andrew first to talk us through the background to the research.
Andrew King 0:30
This piece of research is part of the larger CILIA LGBTQI project, which has been exploring inequalities across the lives of LGBTQI people in four European countries – England, Scotland, Germany, and Portugal. We had a large research team from four different institutions on the project. And they brought expertise from different disciplines, as well as different methodologies. So the main aims of the CILIA project were to study LGBTQI inequalities from an intersectional and lifecourse perspective and bring some comparative dimensions to this. We started with a literature review and survey mapping exercise, which helped us document what had been done so far in the area, then we went on to analyse various sources of data, as well as collecting a large qualitative data set from LGBTQI individuals in the four countries. But this research article reports on the research, which was a part of our quantitative strand.
Christine Garrington 1:43
Okay, that’s great. Thanks Andrew. I’m going to come back to you a little bit later in our discussion for your sort of reflections on what was was found. But Sait you were the lead author on this, and what was it specifically that you wanted to try to get to grips with and why in this particular paper?
Sait Bayrakdar 1:58
We were aware from our qualitative research that despite over 10 years of equality legislation, issue of discrimination, harassment, and violence we’re still very significant to LGBT people, but we wanted to look at this both quantitatively and cross nationally. In a nutshell, we were mainly interested in understanding the patterns of discrimination, harassment and violence experienced by LGBT individuals in these countries. But this was quite tricky, because most survey studies still do not collect information about sexual orientation or gender identity. And it is even more difficult to find an international study that collects data from individuals across different countries. One exception to this was the LGBT survey conducted by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency. And this data allowed us to do a comparative analysis across the countries in the CILIA project. In fact, this really was the on the Pan-European data set that spoke to these inequalities. Also, we wanted to document the diverse experiences and patterns within LGB and T communities. Partly because of data limitations, and small numbers in surveys, these different groups are often merged in a single category as LGBT. Although their experiences differ quite a lot. And our results also come from these differences. Qualitative researchers are quite ahead in this regard. And they have done amazing studies showing the diversity in experiences and outcomes. We hope this research will help us show these differences quantitatively and highlight the need for better survey data collection that allows researchers to study LGBTQI plus lives in this way.
Andrew King 3:37
So although we, there were four countries involved, actually, the dataset just puts everybody into a UK group. So we couldn’t separate out England and Scotland. And the other thing is that the dataset doesn’t include specific questions relevant for intersex people either. So we weren’t able to include intersex people in the quantitative analysis that we did.
Christine Garrington 4:01
Okay, yeah, understood. Now, what sorts of things were people asked about in the Fundamental Rights Agency survey then Sait? It just sounds, it sounds a really useful resource for this.
Sait Bayrakdar 4:12
Yes, absolutely. So the respondents were asked about many things, including their demographic data and social identities, their experiences of discrimination or other kinds of unfair treatment, whether they report these incidents, whether they change their behaviour in public to avoid discrimination. They are also asked about their views about equality policies and their relationships with people they interact in their daily lives. It’s quite a rich study, and I believe it is terribly under used by researchers. In this research, we looked at LGBT individuals experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence, and the survey was asking whether they had experienced any of these as a result of the person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. We looked at how these differences differ for LGBT individuals separately, and how their social background affects their likelihood of experiencing this incidence.
Christine Garrington 5:07
Yeah and large numbers of people took part in this survey as well. So, Sait let’s dig a bit deeper now and move on to you know what everybody is interested to hear about, which is what you actually found – can you talk us through that?
Sait Bayrakdar 5:20
Sure. So earlier, I said that we were interested in bringing forward the diverse experiences within and between LGBT individuals, and between different countries. And I can confidently say that we found out that there are quite striking differences across LGB, and T individuals. First of all, in all countries, trans individuals are more at risk of experiencing negative incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence. Compared to their cisgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual counterparts. This is perhaps not surprising for many, but this wasn’t explored quantitatively previously in an academic study. And another interesting finding for me was that different groups were more prone to experience different kinds of negative incidents. For example, lesbians seem more at risk of discrimination and harassment, and gay men are more at risk of violence. We do not know why this is the case. But there is definitely an observable gender pattern here. And my feeling is that this might be related to the ways these identities may be seen as a threat to masculinity. And I think we should definitely need more research to look at these intersections of sexuality, gender, and maybe also other, other social identities.
Christine Garrington 6:38
Yeah, some really, really interesting and important findings emerging here. And was the story the same across all of the three countries that you, you looked at?
Sait Bayrakdar 6:47
Not quite. In the first instance, all three countries showed similar patterns in the likelihood of experiencing these incidents across different groups. In all countries, reports of discrimination and harassment were more common than reports of violence and trans individuals were more likely to experience all three forms of negative incidents but there were some interesting differences when we dug deeper. For example, the rates of violence are higher in the UK, which begs the question why the UK is less able to protect these individuals despite being a front runner in equality legislation? Perhaps another thing is that the reports of violence are particularly high for trans individuals and gay men in the UK. These two groups in the UK are more likely to experience violence than those in Germany and Portugal. And I think this suggests that contextual factors may be shaping some part of these experiences or the likelihood of experiencing these incidents. This is something that comparative data can help us understand a bit better.
Christine Garrington 7:47
Okay, Sait so was there anything else at play? Any other factors that we should take into account or that you took into account that were important or relevant?
Sait Bayrakdar 7:55
Yeah, so we included quite a few other variables relating to social identities and individual characteristics. I think the most important but perhaps not so unexpected finding was that those who have greater socioeconomic resources are less likely to experience these negative incidents. And this implies that class based social inequalities may have a role here as well. So for example, a more economically advantaged person may be able to protect themselves a bit better, whereas other less advantaged might unfortunately, be more vulnerable to such incidents. We found this effect to varying degrees in all countries. I think this is very important because it points out that intersections of class, sexuality and gender identity are creating unique experiences. Depending on one is positioned across different social demographics, the likelihood of experiencing negative incidents change. We also find that LGBT individuals with disabilities and minority ethnic or religious backgrounds are more likely to experience discrimination. It is really very important that we create more empirical evidence on these intersections looking at different life outcomes, not only discrimination, harassment and violence, but maybe also the outcomes of education, labour markets, and other domains of life.
Christine Garrington 9:15
Yeah, no, absolutely understood. Now, what would you say then say, Sait that we take away from all of this in an era where, you know, many people assume or think, believe that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and identity as somehow a thing of the past? I mean, your your research tells us otherwise?
Sait Bayrakdar 9:32
And this is a very interesting question, which I also find difficult to answer. I think there has been an immense advancement in the equality legislation in the UK, as well as the other countries in our research. And public attitudes have also progressed significantly in recent years. And I think maybe, possibly because of these recent changes, some people may think that the struggle has now been won, and equality has been achieved. However, having legislation is one thing and putting it in effect is another. LGBT individuals still experience discrimination in their day-to-day lives, and the things heterosexual cisgender individuals take for granted are usually not available or accessible to the same extent to LGBT people. And I think that is because the norms and cultures in workplaces, social lives, families are shaped by cis-heteronormativity. So I think those with lived experiences have a better understanding of discrimination and whether or not it is a thing of past.
Christine Garrington 10:33
And on that note, do you have any thoughts on the implications of all of this for, for policy, especially around efforts to promote greater equality, and diversity, you know, wherever we’re at in the world, but particularly in these countries.
Sait Bayrakdar 10:47
In this piece we provide quantitative evidence for many issues scholars have been discussing for a while. And we do this by providing further original comparative evidence, we knew that the discrimination, harassment and violence was there. But for me, the most important take home lesson is that there are country differences in the likelihood of experiencing these incidents. And we see that violence is more likely in the UK, particularly for trans individuals. We do not test the effect of potential factors, but our study does show that trans individuals are more more vulnerable to these attacks. So I think policy should really prioritise this. Trans rights have become a very heated topic for some years now. I must say, I think the way trans rights are discussed in the UK is not helping. As a policy priority the government and other policymakers should prioritise addressing trans people’s very immediate needs and ensure that everyone regardless of their gender identity is protected from discrimination, harassment and violence. And another issue. Police documents don’t always take account of diversity in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation, or variations in sex characteristics and intersex status. They often assume that LGBTQI plus communities are a homogeneous group, despite their characteristics and needs being quite different. I think there should be more engagement from policymakers with communities themselves, so they can see that they are working with diversity and difference. This should also take account of differences related to other social backgrounds, such as education, class, ethnicity, disability, religion, and possibly any other significant difference that people may feel or identify with.
Christine Garrington 12:30
Yeah, thank you Sait for those really interesting reflections. And Andrew, I wonder if there’s anything that you’d like to add to that?
Andrew King 12:36
Yeah, an overall recommendation from the CILIA project is the need for intersectional policymaking. So policies tend to address people as single subjects and adopt a one size fits all approach, which in a way, erases differences. And as we’ve demonstrated in our article from an intersectional lifecourse perspective, this is really problematic. This means that we need policymaking that focuses on multiple and contextual marginalities as well as inclusions and exclusions and how privilege and oppression are created in multiple ways. So not recognising this intersectional diversity in policymaking, or perhaps only doing so in limited ways means people who embody the intersections of different and multiple marginalities get overlooked. So while some policies need to be specific, they should also recognise intersections. And we very much hope that our article and the wider CILIA project contributes to a new policy agenda in this respect.
Christine Garrington 13:46
“LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence in Germany, Portugal and the UK. A quantitative comparative approach” is research by Sait Bayrakdar and Andrew King, and is published in the journal Current Sociology. You can find out more on the DIAL website at dynamicsofinequality.org. And don’t forget to subscribe to the DIAL podcast to access earlier and forthcoming episodes. Thanks for listening to this episode of the DIAL podcast which was presented and produced by me Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts.
In Episode 14 of Series 3 of our podcast, we talk with Professor Andrés Rodríguez-Pose from the London School of Economics about his research looking at who propelled Donald Trump to power and what the future holds for populist politicians, politics and policies?
Christine Garrington 0:01
Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the lifecourse. In this episode, we’re discussing the rise of populism in the US with Andres Rodriguez-Pose at the London School of Economics. He has been asking the intriguing question of who exactly propelled Donald Trump to power and what the future holds for populist politicians, politics and policies?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 0:25
I’ve always been interested in populism and the rise of populism. And I do it feel that many of the explanations of why people vote for, let’s say, anti-system parties and anti-system options, were probably not the most adequate. Of many voters of populism have been considered to be uneducated, poor, rural and white men. And very often, it has been said that we just have to wait for these people to die and then the problem will sort itself out. I think that’s first macabre and not a joke. And second, I do feel that that is also wrong. Because the people that are voting for anti-system parties, both in the US and in Europe, probably have got and certainly have got you know grievances that are related very often, to the long-term economic, social, cultural, and surface decline of the places where they live. But urban elites have tended and political elites have had a tendency to tell them that they are rednecks, that they are despicable, that they live in flyover states and in places where there’s no opportunity, and the best solution for them is just to get on their bikes and move to a place where there’s opportunity, which mainly means the big cities in from that perspective,
Christine Garrington 1:48
Indeed, and so what was it about Trump’s election and obviously near re-election, that you wanted to sort of hone in on and look at specifically and why?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 1:57
Trump, in my view, represented from his arrival, a threat to democracy and to American democracy that traditionally was the beacon of democracy across the world. It also represented the radicalization of the Republican Party that had been traditionally mainstream. And for me, that was really interesting trying to understand what had driven voters in certain parts of the US to vote for Trump, especially in the light of what Robert Putnam, probably the best known political scientist in the world from Harvard University, had written 20 years ago, well in 2000, about the potential threats. to threats to American democracy, which was where coming from, on the one hand, the rise of inequality in the US a country that is far more polarised interpersonally than Europe, but where territorial disparities are significantly lower. And the other challenge, which was the parallel declines since the 1970s, and 1980s of what is he called social capital, which is the sense of interaction, community, and cohesion within localities and within American cities, towns and rural areas.
Christine Garrington 3:15
Now you went about this by carrying out an econometric analysis. For those of us who might not sort of immediately understand what that looks like, in reality, I wonder if you can tell us what you actually did?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 3:25
Well, I wanted to explain what is known as the Trump margin. So the additional votes that Donald Trump received in 2016, and then in 2020, relative to the votes that a perfectly mainstream Republican candidate in the 2012 election, like Mitt Romney had received. So trying to explain the additional extra percentages of votes in specific counties in the US on the basis of a series of factors I thought, and my co-authors thought that the additional vote for Trump was very much related to economic and demographic decline in particular parts of the US, but also I introduce, we introduced a number of what we call controls, which are the factors that either from political science or economics, or sociology have been regarded as the main drivers of the swing and the vote for Trump. And these are mainly related to individual characteristics, what I said before – levels of education, age and ethnicity of the voters in the case of the US, but also related to the places where they live. And there has been a lot of work that has highlighted the divide in the vote in the vote between big cities in the United States and small towns and rural communities.
Christine Garrington 4:49
So what did you find then when you looked at the types of communities that it was thought propelled Donald Trump into into the presidency? What did you find there?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 4:57
Well we started with a hypothesis launch by Robert Putnam in 2000, about the idea that the threat to American democracy and therefore the vote for an extreme outsider like Donald Trump was coming from, on the one hand interpersonal inequality and the decline of social communities. What we thought is that just by looking anecdotally, at what had happened in the US that it was not the poorest of the poor, or the richest of the rich that were voting or voted in 2016 for Donald Trump. In fact, they voted together for Hillary Clinton, whereas it was mainly people living in declining communities, in places that had been seeing that people leave, jobs go, that their salaries were being depressed, etc. Those were the ones that were casting the vote. So our hypothesis was clear. It was not interpersonal inequality, and declining social capital, it was probably long-term economic decline in places that were still relatively cohesive. And this is what we found that on the whole, a country with strong interpersonal inequalities, the vote for anti-system candidates in this case, Donald Trump was not related to huge salary polarisation, although this might explode in the future. It was mainly related to long-term economic decline, in the form of loss of employment, but also to long-term demographic decline in the form of loss of population. By contrast, we saw no connection between declining wages and declining salaries and vote for Donald Trump.
Christine Garrington 6:41
Really interesting. And now, it’s also been said that the global financial crisis of 2008 was was a key driver. Did your research support that or not?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 6:52
Yes, we’ve done the research for every decade. So economic decline since the 1970s, until 2016 and 2020. The dates of the elections that we look at. 1980 to those years 1990, 2000 and 2010. Until then, and the 2008 financial crisis is the fuse, it’s probably the last drop that actually made the glass on the water overflow, in places where that were very hard hit by the crisis in places where they have seen the loss of jobs accelerated to, for example, competition by trade, mainly coming from China. Those are the places where the switch from Mitt Romney to Donald Donald Trump, where the Trump margin increase the most those are the places that actually led to Trump winning the vote. But having said that, this is a far, far longer decline. That is there, we find evidence that for every single decade that we control all the way back to 1970, that in all cases, the decline in local population and decline in local employment is positively and significantly correlated, to more votes for Donald Trump.
Christine Garrington 8:05
Okay, and what other key things emerge that you think, you know, really might be important in these years where we’re looking back on we’re living through still this incredibly intense period of American politics and European politics, global politics, and what what is played out?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 8:22
We saw the events of the 6th of January 2021 and the risk it has represented to democracy. But we have seen in the case of the UK, that something that is, probably hasn’t happened for centuries, like proroguing Parliament took place without virtually everyone batting an eyelid. We’re seeing how countries like Hungary, and Poland are moving away or drifting away from democracy. So what we have is a really, really serious threat to a system that with all its problems, and it’s needed of reform has generated greater prosperity, greater equality. And I would say in the last 70 years in the developed world, the longest period of peace we have ever experienced. So with all its flaws, is probably by far the best system that we have. That what these anti-system let’s call them populist politicians are offering might be apparently simple solutions, but in reality are far more dangerous and likely to just exacerbate polarisation and lead to conflict because these people feed on external enemies, whether real or imaginary. So there was a need for me to try to find potential solutions to this problem. And what has emerged from the research is that lack of opportunities, long-term economic decline, long-term demographic decline, long-term decline in service provisions to many communities in the US but also across most of Europe are at the root of the problem, we have a territorial problem. This is the situation we have, for example, in the UK where there, the need to level up is not just to reduce disparities, but mainly to tap on the potential of places that whether in America or in the north of the UK, for the past, where the motives of the US and the British economy and now are languishing mainly because of lack of political attention, but not just a lack of political attention, lack of belief, from political elites, and often from the population in big cities, but also from themselves, that they have got significant potential, and that this potential can be mobilised in order to lift their economies or lift their quality of life.
Christine Garrington 10:46
Some really important insights there, Andres, thank you. But I just wonder if we might finish by asking you whether you feel that the research tells us anything about what the future might hold in respect of continuing support for Trumpism and more populism and populist policies?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 11:02
This is a deeply rooted problem, that it has been brewing for a very long time. And it requires sustained and serious policy solutions. We have seen in the situation in recent days in the UK with the publication of the levelling up white paper, that this has become centre stage of UK politics. But I do still feel that whether it is in the case of the UK, or in the case of the US or elsewhere in Europe, what we’re finding is that many decision makers are paying lip service to the idea that there’s a need to mobilise resources that there’s a need to invest in areas that have been declining that there’s a need on to tap on those resources. But in reality, there’s a strong lack of belief that place based, place sensitive policies that respond to local challenges, but also mobilise local needs local potential, they think they’re not going to work.
Christine Garrington 12:01
And what from your point of view, would you say are the ramifications of continuing down that road?
Andres Rodriguez-Pose 12:06
If we keep on doing this, we are in a situation where many people in our countries have said enough is enough, we have had enough of a system which seems to benefit someone else. And not us. That if we are asked to do let’s say, an environmental transition? Well, we have. And this is the situation in France, what has happened is that diesel fuel taxes have increased, and we were told 15 years ago that diesel was the future. And now our ageing diesel cars, we have to pay for it. Whereas the people living in Paris, for example, they have alternative transport, they’re richer so they can very often afford electrical cars. And we are paying for a transition that is driven by an urban elite that is aloof to our needs. If this is not addressed, these people have now have decided that they want to shake the tree and they want to shake it hard and they are doing it and they have found their champions. So if this is not done seriously I’m afraid, we might see that the prospect of a 2024 re-election of Donald Trump and it would be the first US president since Grover Cleveland to when non-successive terms, or someone of that ilk, either in the US or in many across parts of Europe and other parts of the world is likely to become something that is common. And in my view, that would be very dangerous for the reasons I said before. We have a system that is flawed, but a system that with all its flaws is far better than any of the alternative we have at the table.
Christine Garrington 13:45
“Golfing with Trump. Social capital, decline, inequality, and the rise of populism in the US” is research by Andres Rodriguez-Pose, Neil Lee and Cornelius Lipp. It’s been produced as part of DIAL’s project Populism, Inequality and Institutions. You can find out more on the DIAL website at dynamicsofinequality.org. Thanks for listening to this episode of the DIAL podcast, which was presented and produced by me Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts.
About the DIAL Podcast
The increasing gap between rich and poor, exacerbated by the recent financial and economic crises, is a key concern for us all.The DIAL Podcast helps us better understand the causes and consequences of those inequalities, providing new evidence and insights into the complex ways in which they play out over the lifecourse.
In a series of accessible audio interviews focusing on research emerging from the NORFACE funded Dynamics of Inequality Across the Lifecourse (DIAL) programme, we talk to those with an interest in getting to grips with inequality and trying to create a fairer and more equal society for all.
Series 1 of the podcast is co-edited and produced by DIAL scientific co-ordinator Elina Kilpi-Jakonen and former BBC journalist, Christine Garrington of Research Podcasts.