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Younger siblings fare worse in educational attainment

26 August 2005

Children born later in families don't perform as well as their older siblings, the 2005 World Congress of the Econometric Society, which is hosted by UCL (University College London), will hear today.

Professor Kjell Salvanes of the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration conducted the first comprehensive analysis of the effect of family composition on educational achievement.

Working with colleagues at UCLA , USA , he analysed the entire population of Norway who were aged 16-74 at some point between the years 1986 to 2000.

They found independent of family size or income the difference in educational achievement is sequential with the first child on average undertaking an extra year of schooling compared with the third child.

Previously studies have suggested that children from larger families don't reach the same level of academic achievement as children from smaller families. But the researchers found when birth order was included there was no correlation with family size.

To verify the results Professor Salvanes and his team followed the children through to adulthood and examined their earnings, full-time employment status and whether the individual had become a teenage parent. Again, they found the effect of family size was negligible.

But the effect of birth order was more pronounced in females in later life. They have lower earnings; are less likely to work full-time and are more likely to have their first child as a teenager. Later born men have lower full time earnings and are unlikely to work full-time.

The researchers used a unique dataset collated using Norway's personal identity number system, which allowed them to look across families and within families to distinguish the causal effect of family size on child's education. Controls were used for family background characteristics; twin data; and included children who were at least 25 in 2000 to ensure that all had completed their education.

“There's extensive theoretical literature that suggests there is a trade-off between child quantity and quality within a family. Our analysis has overcome the limitations of previous studies, which didn't use large datasets, or considered outcomes of economic interest such as education and earnings,” says Professor Salvanes.

“There is a lot of psychological literature on why first born children are most successful. The main suggestion is that the eldest child acts as a teacher for the younger children and learns how to organise information and present it to others. Both are available skills in education and in the labour market. But, there could of course be different types of expectations from the parents and if resources are limited the parents may invest more time and money in the eldest child.”

Professor Kjell Salvanes of the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration will present the paper, ‘The effect of family composition on children's education' on Monday 22 August at 11.15 BST.

For further information, please contact:

Judith H Moore
UCL Media Relations Manager
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 7678
Mobile : +44 (0) 77 333 075 96
Email: Judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

About the World Congress of the Econometrics Society

The Econometric Society is the leading international learned society in the field of economics, and its quinquennial world congress is recognised as the most prestigious in economics. UCL is hosting the ninth Econometric Society World Congress from 18-24 August 2005, which is the first time the Congress has been held in London and has not been hosted by a UK institute for 35 years. A full copy of the programme can be accessed on the 2005 Econometric Society World Congress website: http://www.eswc2005.com

About the UCL Department of Economics

The Chair of Political Economy at UCL was created in 1828 establishing the first Department of Economics in England . The modern department has an outstanding international reputation in key areas of current research including applied theory, microeconometrics, game theory, labour economics, development economics, macroeconomics, industrial economics and environmental economics. It is one of only four economics departments in the UK to achieve the 'double 5*' rating in the two most recent (2001) national Research Assessment Exercises (RAE).