In this report we assess the evidence on the long-run associations between social and emotional skills in childhood and adult outcomes. We report findings from an extensive literature review, and from our own new research.
There are three key elements:
(i) A literature review of evidence relating to the relationship between social and emotional skills in childhood and adult outcomes;
(ii) New analysis of the British Cohort Study about these relationships across a wide range of outcomes, including a particular focus on the role of social and emotional skills in transmitting ‘top job’ status between parents and their children;
(iii) New, preliminary analysis of how the gaps in some of the skills assessed in (ii) are emerging in children in the UK born around the millennium.
Introduction: what are social and emotional skills? (Chapter 1)
The introduction section establishes five broad groupings of social and emotional skills in children and outcomes in adult life that underpin the literature review. These are:
1. Self-perceptions and self-awareness. These relate to a child’s knowledge and perception of themselves and their value, their confidence in their current abilities and a belief in their efficacy in future tasks.
2. Motivation. This can be characterised as the reasons for which individuals strive towards goals. It includes the belief that effort leads to achievement, distinguishes whether goals are set by other people or by oneself, and the value that is attached to the goal in question, aspiration and ambition.
3. Self-control and self-regulation. These refer to how children manage and express emotions, and the extent to which they overcome short-term impulsivity in order to prioritise higher pursuits.
4. Social skills. These describe a child’s ability and tendency to interact with others, forge and maintain relationships, and avoid socially unacceptable responses. They cover communication, empathy, kindness, sharing and cooperativeness. They are absent when a child is solitary, shy or withdrawn.
5. Resilience and coping. These are demonstrated when an individual is able to adapt positively and purposefully in the face of stress and otherwise difficult circumstances. Resilience is not so much an aspect of character as a developmental process – the ability to summon strength when needed and ‘beat the odds’ of adversity.
We also consider the literature on how emotional wellbeing in children is associated with outcomes in adult life. While this is not generally considered a ‘skill’ that fits within the framework set out for us by EIF when commissioning this report, we included it because we found extensive discussion in the literature of its importance. However, the impact of specific mental health conditions in childhood was not in scope for our review.
Which social and emotional skills have predicted later life outcomes? Findings from our literature review (Chapter 2)
There is a significant body of literature showing the long-term importance of many of the skills identified in the framework set out in Chapter 1. This work shows associations between the adult outcomes and the childhood skills, usually controlling (‘adjusting’) for other factors and circumstances that may have given rise both to the outcome and the ‘predictor’. It is important to bear in mind that while these may be indicative of causal relationships (especially where an extensive set of controls is used), both could be the outcome of a common cause, which may not be sufficiently well accounted for in the regression analysis. A further reason to be cautious is that relationships that may have been causal in the past do not necessarily replicate in the present and future.
Most prominently, the search revealed a very significant body of work demonstrating the association of self-control, self-regulation (and similar concepts) in childhood with many domains of adult life, including mental health, life satisfaction and wellbeing, qualifications, income and labour market outcomes, measures of physical health, obesity, smoking, crime and mortality.
Research has also shown the importance of some types of self-perceptions and self-awareness. Belief that one’s own actions can make a difference – captured by concepts such as locus of control, self-efficacy – are shown in the literature to be related to a number of adult outcomes, including mental distress, self-rated health, obesity and unemployment. The literature also shows that self-esteem in childhood is associated with both mental and physical health in adult life.
Social skills have been found to be important as predictors of non-labour market outcomes, in particular mental health and wellbeing, health behaviours, and marriage in later life.
There is limited literature linking measures of motivation in childhood to later life outcomes. For example, while there is considerable evidence for the importance of ‘intrinsic motivation’ (defined as enjoyment of an activity, such as learning, for its own sake) for positive schooling outcomes we found no studies linking measures of intrinsic motivations captured in childhood to longer-term outcomes in adult life. There is some evidence that ‘academic motivation’ defined in a less precise way, and capturing positive attitudes to schooling in a number of different dimensions, is important for labour market outcomes (e.g. social class) and adult health behaviours (e.g. smoking) later in life. There is little evidence to date on the importance in later life of resilience and coping demonstrated in childhood.
Read the full report here: EIF-Strand-1-Report-FINAL1