First born children ‘given attainment advantage’ in early years

Written by Tom Freeman on 8 February 2017 in News

Parents give first born children an advantage in early years by supporting brain growth and taking less risks, new research shows

Siblings - credit Nathan

Children born first are giving an advantage over younger siblings because their parents take more time to stimulate their brain and take fewer risks, new research from the University of Edinburgh has suggested.

Researchers found IQ scores were higher among first born children by age one, and the gap widened as they grew older.

Analysis of 5,000 children was done by the University of Edinburgh, Analysis Group and the University of Sydney.


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Parental behaviour was compared to assessments, including pre-birth behaviour such as smoking and drinking activity during pregnancy, and post-birth behaviour such as mental stimulation and emotional support.

Researchers found that although emotional support remained largely the same, parents offered less mental stimulation to younger siblings also took part in fewer activities such as such as reading with the child, crafts and playing musical instruments.

They were also more likely to take higher risks such as exposing children to smoke.

Dr Ana Nuevo-Chiquero, of the University of Edinburgh’s School Economics, said: “Our results suggests that broad shifts in parental behaviour are a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labour market outcomes.”

Research shows all kinds of factors can impact on a child’s health, development and life chances in the nine months before a baby is born, and in the critical first 1,000 days of life. Young babies make 1,000 synaptic connections a second, so every moment they are spoken to - or ignored - makes a difference.

At nine months old, Holyrood’s fictional baby Kirsty has already been vulnerable to falling behind in the attainment gap, but this latest research shows she is likely to get more chances through parental involvement than any younger siblings.

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