Social origins, cognitive ability and educational attainment

If we look at individuals who had similar scores on cognitive ability tests at age 10, we find that they go on to differ greatly in their educational attainment. But how far are these differences related to their social origins? This study aims to address this question in detail, with reference to the 21st as well as the 20th century.

The researchers will use data relating to cohorts of children born in 1958, 1970 and the early 1990s. These datasets contain detailed information on the results of individuals' performance on tests of cognitive ability at around age 10, on their parents' social class, status and education, on their own educational careers through into adult life, and on their academic and vocational qualifications.

For each cohort, the researchers will compare the subsequent educational attainment of children who at around age 10 were of similar ability. They will then ascertain how far differences in their attainment are associated with their social origins.

This question is of major academic interest in the field of social mobility. But it will also shed light on the most effective means of offsetting the effects of disadvantaged social origins on individuals' educational and subsequent socioeconomic attainment. 

Project details


Dr Erzsebet Bukodi and Dr John Goldthorpe

Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford

Grant amount and duration:


July 2015 - May 2018