Leading ladies: Firstborn girls aim higher

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Do you want to leave school when you are 16, or do you plan to go on to sixth form or college? One of the survey questions asked in Understanding Society and used in an exciting new research project.

The study, Sibling Configurations, Educational Aspiration and Attainment by Feifei Bu at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex found that, if you are the eldest child and female, you are statistically more likely to be the most ambitious and well-qualified of your siblings.

The study followed 1503 sibling groups and 3532 individuals through the British Household Panel Study and Understanding Society.

By asking questions about young people’s educational aspirations, the study revealed that:

  • Firstborn children were 7% more likely to aspire to stay on in education than younger siblings
  • Girls are 13% more ambitious than boys
  • The probability of attending further education for firstborns is 16% higher than their younger siblings
  • Girls are 4% more likely to have further education qualifications.

The research aimed to shed light on the debate on the strength of the link between birth order and educational achievement, something which remained inconclusive up to now. Ms Bu commented:

“Although birth order is clearly a within-family phenomenon, most previous studies are based on cross sectional data which arguably may lead to overestimates of the birth order effect.

“Because Understanding Society includes information on multiple children living in the same families, we were able to look at the aspirations of firstborn children and also the role of these aspirations play in determining later levels of attainment.

“This rich data was intrinsic to the outcome of the study and our results show that the birth order effect on education persists under the within family design.”

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this news has been re-posted from the Understanding Society website