Data Science

Does health at birth affect educational outcomes in later life?

Led by the University of Glasgow, investigators at The Farr Institute have discovered links between the delivery and health of newborn babies and performance in education later on in life.

Photo of sleeping baby

School of Health and Wellbeing research theme

Data Science

University of Glasgow research beacon

Addressing Inequalities

The challenge

How babies are born and birth weight are examples of data routinely recorded by maternity staff about mothers and their babies.

Until recently, how birth and early-life events relate to educational outcomes in later life has been little understood. Identifying these links is complicated because information about health and education are recorded in different ways by different organisations. Only by linking data together were scientists able to explore connections between birth, a baby’s health and outcomes of education.

The research

A team of researchers undertook the complex and time-consuming task of linking sets of data from the health and education sectors together.  This was done in a completely safe, secure and trustworthy way which, while protecting the data of individuals, allowed scientists to study the patterns that emerged. By linking data about mothers and babies from maternity records to data from schools and examination results, the researchers could look at how pregnancy, birth and other early childhood factors affect educational performance later in life.

The results

Maternity staff evaluate a baby’s health within 5 minutes of birth to check they are physically healthy and to see if any medical or emergency care is needed. This is recorded as something called the APGAR score. By linking data, the research showed that a baby’s APGAR score and how birth is managed can affect the outcomes of education and health in the long term.

One particular finding suggested that babies in the breech position delivered by scheduled Caesarean section have better long-term educational outcomes than those born naturally. Interestingly, the data also showed that an increasing number of babies who are not in the breech position are being delivered by scheduled Caesarean section.

It was also found that delivering a baby even 1 or 2 weeks early can increase the likelihood of an individual requiring support in the course of their education.

The impact

These studies demonstrated the benefits of being able to link health and education data together in order to study the connection between events and outcomes in people’s lives. The findings from these studies will help to inform pregnant women and their doctors of the long term outcomes associated with different options for child birth.

Find out more about The Farr Institute’s work in this area 

University of Glasgow lead

Professor Daniel F Mackay

This case study is featured in the Farr Institute "100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better" series.