Parental education is determining factor in UK poverty

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A child’s education – and that of its parents – are the decisive factors in predicting whether it will grow up to live in poverty in Britain, according to analysis published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics.

Those with a poor education are almost five times more likely to be in poverty as those with a high level and 11 times as likely to be “severely deprived”.

The education of a child’s father rather than material circumstances was found to have the biggest impact on achievement at school. “Holding all else equal, people are 7.5 times more likely to have a low educational outcome themselves if their father had a low level of education,” said the report, which looked at Britain’s record compared with the rest of the EU.

Children with a mother who had a low level of education were three times more likely to be in poverty.

Growing up in a “workless household” was also a significant predictor of future poverty. Those who grew up in a house where no adults worked were 1.5 times more likely to be in poverty, holding all other factors equal.

“Spain was the only other country in which worklessness was a significant factor,” said Richard Tonkin, one of the authors of the report. “And in southern and eastern European countries, people’s financial situation during childhood remained significant, even after taking into account their educational attainment.”

The UK has the lowest level of social mobility in the rich world, according to one measure produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2007 and published alongside the analysis.

‘Intergenerational earnings elasticity’ – a measure of how parents’ earnings relate to their children – is the highest in the UK at 0.50, more than the US at 0.47 and much higher than the Nordic countries, most of whom have a level below 0.20.

Commenting on the report, Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust, a think-tank that examines education and social mobility, said: “Today’s report shows just how important education is in breaking that cycle of poverty across generations, and ensuring that poor educational achievement is not transmitted from parent to child. The report shows that we lag behind other northern European countries in this regard”

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