Affordable Access

The contribution of basic skills to health related outcomes during adulthood : evidence from the BCS70

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Publication Date
  • Design
  • Education
  • Psychology


Using data from the British Cohort born in 1970 this report set out to answer the following research question: can adult basic skills contribute to better health in adulthood? Key findings: 1. We found that lack of adult numeracy skills were associated with deteriorating self-rated health for men and women. 2. We also found that low adult literacy and numeracy skills were associated with worsening health limiting conditions. In particular, low numeracy was associated with worsening health limiting conditions for men and women and low literacy was associated with worsening health limiting conditions for women only. 3. We found weak evidence that low basic skills are associated with smoking (as an indicator of a health behaviour). We only found that low literacy is associated with increased smoking for men. 4. Our results showed no evidence that basic skills are associated with depression (as an indicator of mental health). The report had the following research strategy. BCS70 data, which contain information on adult basic skills (at age 34) and health outcomes (at ages 34 and 38) was used to estimate the association of adult basic skills to changes in health. In addition, information on highest educational qualifications in adulthood was used to estimate if there was a relationship between adult basic skills and changes in health in addition to the impact of highest educational qualifications. Finally, we included important childhood factors such as childhood health and academic ability to condition out the association of these factors to the formation of basic skills in adulthood and adult health. Multivariate regression analysis was used to estimate parameters of the models and several sensitivity analyses were performed. Results here are presented using the language of ‘association’ rather than ‘causation’. This is because low basic skills are associated with multiple and complex forms of disadvantage. Therefore, it is not possible with the use of the cohort data to establish the causality of poor basic skills on adult outcomes. Nevertheless, our results point to the importance of poor basic skills in adulthood for low general subjective health and health limiting conditions. As such, we do not propose a single intervention to improve basic skills to tackle the problems of adult ill-health, but rather poor basic skills should be considered as an important component of policy design which aims at supporting adults who are in a situation of relative disadvantage.

There are no comments yet on this publication. Be the first to share your thoughts.