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Modelling the relationship between parental behaviour and childhood skill development: Empirical evidence from the UK and Canada

TitleModelling the relationship between parental behaviour and childhood skill development: Empirical evidence from the UK and Canada
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsBrown, A. Mary Pitte
UniversityUniversity of Cambridge
CityCambridge, UK
Keywordscognitive skills, developmental trajectories, longitudinal data, millennium cohort study, national longitudinal study of children and youth, non-cognitive skills, parenting, quantitative, skill development

This longitudinal, quantitative methods research defines a theoretical framework to model the developmental trajectories of cognitive and non-cognitive skills in primary school children and capture the role that parenting plays in the joint evolution of these skills. This framework draws on theoretical models and empirical findings from the fields of economics, psychology and education. Specifically, this thesis adapts the economic framework of Cunha and Heckman (2007, 2008) to separately measure the effect of financial resources and of inputs to development in the form of parenting behaviours; to allow for literature from psychology and education to aid in the identification of multiple types of such parental inputs; and to examine the differing impacts from each of these types of investment. Distinguishing between financial investments in children and other parental inputs to development is critical for the creation of public policies which address existing socio-economic disparities in child development. Applying this proposed framework to nationally representative, longitudinal survey data from the UK and Canada, yields empirical estimates of skill formation in two contexts. These studies demonstrate how the model can be adapted to examine various aspects of parenting or to accommodate different types of longitudinal measures. Additionally, each empirical application provides precise estimates of how cognitive and non-cognitive skills evolve from birth to adolescence; and specific measurements of how the time that parents spend with their children impacts skill development. In both the UK and Canadian data, three parenting constructs are identified. Each of these inputs has a significant effect on the development of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, with differing periods of sensitivity to each type of parental input. Unlike past research which finds that as children age parental input becomes ineffective in promoting cognitive development, the results presented in this thesis find that some types of parental input are most effective for cognitive development in early childhood while other types have measurable effects on cognitive ability in older children.

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