University of Exeter: Major new study will show how widening inequalities in education and employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will impact children’s life prospects

Experts hope their work – which includes a comparison of the life chances for today’s young people with those who started jobs during the 2008 recession – will help UK governments and policymakers to develop long term recovery plans to improve outcomes for all children.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is led by Professor Lee Elliot Major, from the University of Exeter and Professor Stephen Machin and Andrew Eyles, from the Centre of Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. They will use multiple sources of data to create a holistic projection of the likely impact of the coronavirus on children’s long-term prospects. This will provide the most comprehensive assessment to date of the likely post-pandemic trends in social mobility.

The study will show how parents’ investments in time and money, the quality of schooling experienced, and family background characteristics affect children throughout their lives. This model will be based on children born around 2000, educated in a similar environment to children whose education has been affected by Covid. The researchers will apply this framework to children growing up during the pandemic, estimating the impact on parents’ investments and resources, and children’s schooling quality.

The two-year project entitled COVID-19 and Social Mobility: promoting life prospects in a post pandemic world has been awarded £209,809 in funding from the Nuffield Foundation.

Professor Elliot Major said “Our project will provide a comprehensive account of how emerging inequalities caused by Covid will impact on future social mobility levels in the UK. Our approach is distinctive in that it goes beyond the descriptive evidence on losses in learning time. Instead, it combines the array of evidence being accumulated and uses it to model the effect of the Covid pandemic on a range of outcomes for children including school attainment, non-cognitive skills, earnings, and ultimately life prospects.”

Mr Eyles added: “We will show how school results are linked with later life outcomes, highlighting how young people were impacted by the Great Recession in 2008. We can then estimate the likely impacts on young people affected by the pandemic.

“By identifying the main drivers shaping outcomes of children and young people at distinct life stages we can highlight how these have changed during the pandemic. Finding evidence at different stages of the life-course will show the potential of best-timed investments for children. The ultimate aim of the project is to help improve the prospects of disadvantaged children and young people most likely to be impacted by the pandemic.”

Lee Elliot Major is Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter. He has co-authored with Stephen Machin two major books on social mobility. Andrew Eyles is a research economist at the Centre for Economic Performance and a PhD student in Economics at UCL. Stephen Machin is Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE.

The team has successfully worked on several joint research projects on social mobility, as well as publishing in leading academic journals, producing successful books and articles for the wider public, and influencing national policy.

Cheryl Lloyd, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “The pandemic has affected many aspects of children and young people’s lives, including their experiences of school, college and home learning, their emotional and mental health, and how they spend their time. Young people at transition points have been especially vulnerable, and there is evidence that socio-economic and other inequalities are growing, which are likely to impact on longer term prospects. This project will provide a holistic picture of how the pandemic has impacted children and young people so that action can be taken to reduce inequalities, and better support young people, families and those who work with them.”

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