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

Understanding how intersectional advantage and disadvantage affects criminal career trajectories in Queensland, Australia: a multilevel approach

Matthews, McVie and collaborators at Queensland University, Australia 

Research questions: 

How does the association between adult conviction trajectories and early youth justice sanction vary by sex and indigenous status?

How does the association between adult conviction trajectories and childhood trauma vary by sex and indigenous status?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Inequality is defined as the difference in estimated probability of convictions class membership between non-indigenous men, non-indigenous women, indigenous men and indigenous women.

Approach or method used:

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.

Inequalities in achieving a higher education qualification: using a sibling design to disentangle the importance of individual and family factors

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 in 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?

How have gender and age inequalities in conviction changed over the crime drop in Scotland?

Matthews and Minton (2017) have shown that the crime drop in Scotland is unequally distributed across age and sex, being predominantly driven by lower convictions for young men. We aim to build on this research to examine the roles of demographic change, prevalence (the proportion of the total population who are convicted) and frequency (the average number of convictions for those convicted) on overall conviction rates, identifying whether falling conviction rates are due to fewer people being convicted or the same number people being convicted at a lower rate. This analysis will provide important insights into the potential mechanisms which have led to the crime drop, supplementing existing work in the USA which has focused on young men (Berg et al. 2016) by exploring trends for men and women across the age spectrum. We will also examine how the use of different disposals - imprisonment, community disposals and fines - have changed over the crime drop, and how the use of these disposals have changed for men and women of different ages convicted of different types of crime.

To what extent does gender and poverty impact on the relationship between violence and self-harm?

In 1996, the World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted a resolution which declared violence to be a major and growing public health problem at a global level.  The WHO’s definition of violence includes both interpersonal and self-directed forms of behaviour (including self-injury and suicidal behaviour), the rationale being that these are often products of the same underlying factors. Both violence and self-harming behaviour are common in adolescence; however, few studies have examined whether there are causal connections between them or whether these are comorbid psychosocial disorders that are explained by similar aetiological factors, such as growing up in poverty. Moreover, teenage violence is largely perpetrated by young men, whereas self-harm is most prevalent amongst young women.  So there is little understanding of whether gender inequalities impact on any relationship between the two forms of violence.  

Our other areas of research

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