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Inequality in Socio-emotional Skills: A Cross-Cohort Comparison

Orazio Attanasio, Richard Blundell, Gabriella Conti, Giacomo Mason


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar 2018, Hilary W. Hoynes, Camille Landais, and Johannes Spinnewijn, organizers
Conference held June 4-5, 2018
Forthcoming from Elsevier, Journal of Public Economics

We examine changes in inequality in socio-emotional skills very early in life in two British cohorts born 30 years apart. We construct comparable scales using two validated instruments for the measurement of child behaviour and identify two dimensions of socio-emotional skills: ‘internalising’ and ‘externalising’. Using recent methodological advances in factor analysis, we establish comparability in the inequality of these early skills across cohorts, but not in their average level. We document for the first time that inequality in socio-emotional skills has increased across cohorts, especially for boys and at the bottom of the distribution. We also formally decompose the sources of the increase in inequality and find that compositional changes explain half of the rise in inequality in externalising skills. On the other hand, the increase in inequality in internalising skills seems entirely driven by changes in returns to background characteristics. Lastly, we document that socio-emotional skills measured at an earlier age than in most of the existing literature are significant predictors of health and health behaviours. Our results show the importance of formally testing comparability of measurements to study skills differences across groups, and in general point to the role of inequalities in the early years for the accumulation of health and human capital across the life course.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104171

 
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