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Conclusions about parenting from a 70-year study

smiling mother and daughter hugging

Key points:

  1. Researchers have been conducting a longitudinal study of 70,000 individuals born in the UK over a 70-year time period, collecting information about their physical and mental health, education, employment, family, parenting, social attitudes, and cognitive abilities.
  2. The study has found that children born into poverty, on average, do less well by every measure, and that parenting matters in helping kids thrive.
  3. Parental behaviors associated with improved outcomes include talking and listening to their kids, communicating clear interest and ambition for their future, being warm and loving, teaching them letters and numbers, going on excursions together, reading to them every day, and maintaining a regular bedtime.
  4. Spending quality time with children, even in routine activities, has a huge impact on their future, and every small thing a parent does counts.

After World War II researchers in the UK were curious about the conditions for mothers in the country. They decided to survey every woman who gave birth over a one-week period in 1946 and gathered around 14,000 meticulous questionnaires about what it was like giving birth in Britain at the time. They have been repeating this, generation after generation, surveying a total of 70,000 individuals and doing an ongoing investigation of the participants’ lives over a 70-year time period. The surveys collect information about their education, employment, family, parenting, physical and mental health. They also consider social attitudes and apply cognitive tests at different ages.

Although multiple findings have resulted from the study, Helen Pearson (journalist, author, and mother) concludes two key points. Her first takeaway is that on average children born into poverty grow up to do less well by every measure. This is not shocking, but it is still important to mention, as it is related to the second point: parenting matters.


Researchers compared kids born in similar disadvantaged circumstances and then followed them to see which ones beat the odds and why. This has allowed researchers to begin to pinpoint which parental behaviors are the most significant when it comes to helping kids thrive. The good news is that most of them are available to any parent, no matter their wealth.

These are some of the things that parents do that have been associated with improved outcomes:
• Talking and listening to their kids
• Clearly communicating interest and ambition for their future
• Being warm and loving
• Teaching them letters and numbers
• Going on excursions together
• Reading to them every day
• Encouraging them to read for pleasure
• Maintaining a regular bedtime

Although most (or all!) of these things are very obvious, they are so simple that they can be forgotten or pushed aside by our full agendas and our tendency to over-complicate things. Spending quality time with our kids is simply that – taking a moment to actually observe them, intently listen to what they say, and join in on the conversation! When it comes to parenting, every small thing counts. As trivial as it might be for you, it means a lot to your children. They take notice. It’s the little things you do together, even the routine ones, that count and have a huge impact on their future.

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