Mother and son holding hands

Inequality can affect people of all ages; however, there are some stages of the life-course at which inequality can have a particularly significant impact.  Children and young people are often more affected by, and subject to, inequality than adults and they are often the least able to defend themselves against it.  What is more, the negative impact of inequalities experienced in childhood can have a long term effect across the life-course, often being perpetuated and exacerbated such that their life chances are significantly reduced.  Our research examines age inequality in a range of contexts, including the impact of inequality in early life and changes in age inequality over time.  
Our current active research projects on spatial inequalities are listed below (these link closely with our research on Socio-Economic, Gender, Education and Justice inequalities).

Research Papers

Does comprehensive education reduce health inequalities?

Despite the growing life expectancy witnessed in the last decades, in many western countries, socio-economic inequalities in health persist. A voluminous body of work describing social and economic determinants of health inequalities exists, but much less is known about the impact of social policies, and specifically educational reforms, on health. In this paper, we examine whether the introduction of comprehensive secondary education in Britain has led to any change in health inequalities measured by a variety of both objective and subjective indicators. Equalizing educational opportunities is an argument for a comprehensive school system. Given that education is an important social determinant of health, it is hypothesised that a more equitable comprehensive system could reduce health inequalities in adulthood. To test this hypothesis, we exploited the change from a largely selective to a largely comprehensive system that occurred in the UK from the mid-1960s onwards and compare inequalities in health outcomes of two birth cohorts (1958 and 1970) who attended either system.

Different degrees of career success: social origin and graduates’ education and labour market trajectories

Most research on social inequalities in higher education (HE) graduates’ labour market outcomes has analysed outcomes at one or two points in time, thus providing only snapshots of graduates’ occupational destinations. This study contributes to the existing literature by examining the education and labour market trajectories of degree holders across their life course and how these trajectories vary by social class of origin. Using data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, we assess the degree of social inequalities in the chance of following more or less advantaged pathways from age 16 up to the age of 42 and the extent to which these inequalities are explained by differences in higher education experiences. Three main questions are addressed in this study:

  1. What are the typical education and labour market pathways followed by HE graduates?
  2. How do these pathways vary by parental social class? 
  3. Do differences in graduates’ HE experiences (i.e. age of graduation, the field of study and institution attended, degree class achieved and postgraduate studies) explain class-of-origin differences?


From childhood system intervention to adult criminal conviction: Investigating sex and Indigenous status inequalities in Queensland administrative data

Matthews, McVie and collaborators at Queensland University, Australia 

It is well known that youth justice intervention is associated with a criminal conviction in adulthood.  What is less well known is whether “cross-over” children, who have contact with both child welfare and youth justice systems, experience relatively worse outcomes and, if so, whether these outcomes are exacerbated by important demographic factors, such as sex and Indigenous status.  Criminal careers scholars have examined the existence and patterning of adult convictions for different groups, but attempts to understand inequality of outcome have been constrained by limitations of standard statistical analysis.  Using administrative data from the Queensland Cross-sector Research Collaboration, we adopt a novel regression model specification more commonly used in epidemiology to explore the cumulative effects of childhood system contact on adult conviction trajectories, and how these associations vary by sex and Indigenous status.

The impact of early inequalities and adverse experiences on offending and criminal conviction over the life-course

McAra and McVie

Poverty and early justice system intervention are known to be key contributors to offending behaviour amongst young people and, even more so, to contribute to inequality in exposure to justice system contact.  In recent years, attention has started to focus on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the extent to which people who come to the attention of criminal justice organisations are impacted by these.  In Scotland, for example, policing and prisons policies have started to develop ‘trauma informed practice’ in order to engage more compassionately with individuals who may have experienced ACEs. However, the full extent of the relationship between ACEs and offending or criminal justice system contact is not entirely clear; and there are some concerns that a narrow focus on ACEs deflects attention away from the impact of other known risk factors, including structural poverty and negative system effects. 

The research questions guiding this paper are:

·         To what extent do ACEs impact on offending behaviour in adolescence?

The transition to primary school: How family background and childcare experiences influence children’s skills on school entry

This paper uses data from Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) for Scotland to explore the factors influencing inequalities in children’s skills on entry to primary school. The main research questions are:

•    Are there social inequalities by parental background in cognitive skills on entry to primary school?
•    To what extent do early childcare experiences and family environment explain the differences by parental background and what is their relative importance?
•    Are there differences between Scotland and Ireland in the level of inequality and the processes shaping it?  

Type of inequality
Previous research has generally focused on mother’s education or social class. Instead, the analyses adopt a multidimensional approach to inequality, focusing on differences in child outcomes by parental social class, mother’s education and household income.

Problem behaviour in children: policy, politics and social inequality in Scotland

This paper explores the impact of socio-economic and other inequalities on the risk of conduct disorder among a cohort of children aged 10 years in Scotland. Broadly defined, children with conduct disorder have a difficult time following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. In the UK, early onset conduct disorder is the main reason for referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. While there is an extensive literature on childhood conduct disorders, most research to date has focused on individual and family level factors, for example, child personality traits, family background and dysfunction, parenting styles and more recently, the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). A similar focus is reflected within policy, whereby the main emphasis is on parenting classes and child psychological therapies. For example, the Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 aims to have completed a national roll-out of targeted parenting programmes for three and four-year olds with conduct disorder by 2019-2020.

Social inequalities in attaining higher education in Scotland: New evidence from sibling data

Sibling designs are an important analytical strategy to capture the family environment as a global measure, providing a summary indicator of all measured and unmeasured characteristics shared by siblings at birth and during their upbringing, such as genes, social environment, siblings interactions and many others. This, in turn, allows us to assess the relative importance of shared family characteristics vs. individual characteristics and of different parental background measures within the total family shared environment. This paper will provide new and robust empirical evidence regarding social inequalities in HE graduation. Using new siblings’ data from the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS), the paper addresses the following research questions:
(1) What is the share of between and within family variance in siblings’ HE outcomes?  
(2) Does this differ by social class of origin and by other family characteristics?
(3) How much of the total variance between families is explained by parental social class, education and other family-level characteristics?

Against all odds: Enabling factors in early childhood for cognitive outcomes

This research investigates the extent to which children from more disadvantaged backgrounds achieve cognitive outcomes higher than their peers and the factors which are behind their more successful outcomes from a life-course perspective. The aim is to identify and understand specific factors and turning points in children’s lives which can help children to overcome the negative influences of the social disadvantage they are born in and to shed light on the mechanisms at play. Thus, we ask the following questions:
1)    To what extent do children from disadvantaged backgrounds attain successful cognitive outcomes?
2)    What are the key enabling factors that distinguish successful children from disadvantaged backgrounds (the ‘resilient’) from their peers who attain less? And what is the interplay between the enabling factors analysed?
3)    Are there turning points in the life-course of disadvantaged children which enable them to achieve better outcomes than expected?

Social class differences in parenting practices and their influence on children’s educational outcomes in Scotland and the United States

A large body of literature has investigated the existence of social class differences in children’s school outcomes. However, relatively less is known about the possible mechanisms through which this relationship operates.

We address the following questions:
•    Are there social class differences in children’s educational outcomes at age 10 in Scotland and the U.S.A?
•    To what extent do differences in parenting practices explain the observed social class differences in children’s outcomes?
•    Do different mechanisms operate within each national context?

Growing up with a lone mother in Scotland: the role of employment, childcare and family ties on children’s wellbeing

Increasing scholarly attention has focused on the link between family demography and inequalities, and its implications for children’s life courses. Children born from more disadvantaged families are more likely to experience family changes and structures that are associated with a loss of resources, such as their parents’ early and non-marital family formation, union instability and weaker labour market attachment. These experiences have important repercussions on children’s well-being and chances in life.

Mothers’ employment patterns and child behaviour: Comparing Scotland and Germany

The number of working women has markedly increased in recent decades. In this process, many debates have focused on how the children of working mothers fare in terms of well-being and development: On the one hand, maternal employment may negatively impact children because employed mothers have less time to spend with their child and they may be more stressed than non-employed mothers. On the other hand, increased family income and satisfaction derived from work may have positive effects on children. Maternal employment is socially stratified. Working in low-skilled occupation or stressful working conditions is more likely to be experienced by women in less favourable life conditions, particularly, low educated mothers. If these working conditions negatively affect child outcomes, then social inequalities are likely to accumulate. Therefore, studying the impact of maternal employment on child outcomes may shed light on processes of cumulative disadvantage in the early life course.
The key research questions are:
•    Does maternal employment affect the socio-emotional wellbeing of children growing up with a lone mother?

A crime drop for whom? Changing inequality in the profile of victims in Scotland from 2008-09 to 2017-18

Crime has fallen substantially over the last 30 or so year, in Scotland and elsewhere. One of the main questions raised by the ‘crime drop’ is whether all groups in society have benefited, or whether some groups have seen larger reductions in crime than others. We make explicit the distinction between two different types of victimization inequality measure which have previously been used to study changing victimization inequality over the course of the crime drop - what we term adjusted and unadjusted measures. We argue that these two measures relate to conceptually distinct quantities of interest which can inform different types of policy response to changing victimization inequality, informing victimization prevention and victim support services respectively. We empirically analyse the change in victimization inequality in Scotland between 2008 and 2017 using these two types of victimization inequality measure, considering a range of socio-demographic factors.

The impact of structural, systemic and social inequalities in childhood on adolescent offending and early adult criminal conviction


The factors that determine young people’s involvement in offending and youth justice are multiple and complex, which makes it difficult to know what type of policy response is likely to be most effective.  Scotland has prioritised policies aimed at reducing child poverty, improving trauma informed practice and minimising the impact of formal system contact amongst those who get involved in offending.  But which is most likely to be effective and for what?  This paper examines data from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime to explore the relationship between early childhood experiences, offending in adolescence and criminal conviction in early adulthood.

Types of inequalities

Poverty, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Formal System Contact, Gender


This research involves the use of latent class growth analysis (LCGA) and multinomial regression modelling.

Our other areas of research

Illustration of the coronavirus in red on a black background


Car window smashed by car thief


People with hands raised in lecture


Workers in an open plan office


Industrial Chimneys with smoke raising


Students chatting in the library


chalk drawing of male and female on balance scales


New houses being built in a new development


Criminal with handcuffs behind back


Dad with two children walking hand in hand to the bus stop


Block of high rise flats


Sad boy sitting on a bark bench