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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Attainment 'influenced by class'
University library
Parental aspiration as well as class could be important
Children with professional parents are more likely to reach higher social classes as adults, a report says.

The social class and educational attainment of parents influences those of their children well into their 30s.

Parental education can also affect the decision to start a family, the Office for National Statistics report says.

Women aged 25-29 in the top two social classes were half as likely to have children by this age as women from the lowest social classes.

Among women born in the mid to late 1960s, two in five with a secondary or higher education qualification were childless aged 30.

In France and Norway the figure was fewer than one in three, the report says.

'Not too bleak'

The ONS report Population Trends examined the data of men and women of all social classes in England and Wales from childhood into their 30s.

It found that among men aged 23-26 living in a two-parent family in 1981, 43% with a parent in the highest social classes (professional and managerial) achieved a higher education qualification.

Of those with a parent from the two lowest social classes (semi-skilled and unskilled), only 14% achieved the same level of education.

The research also found that educational attainment had a greater influence on peak childbearing age in England and Wales than in Norway and France.

Professor Anthony Heath, head of the department of sociology at Oxford University, said that high childcare costs and the desire to establish a career had an undeniable impact on when women chose to start a family.

"We are finding that many women are deferring having children until they are more affluent," he said.

"France has much more extensive pre-school provision. More women tend to return to full-time work in France than in the UK, probably for this reason."

He said Britain had an "average" level of social mobility compared to other rich nations such as the US, Canada and Sweden which are regarded as having high levels of mobility between classes.

"But there are substantial inequalities between classes. Affluent parents can afford to support their children, both financially and culturally, by reading to them, for example," Professor Heath said.

"But we mustn't draw too bleak a picture," he went on. "People's aspirations and personalities are very important, and it's partly about making choices.

"And many upper-working class parents have aspirations for their children to do better," he said.

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