Key findings


Characteristics of children and their families

The majority of children in both Growing Up In Scotland birth cohorts were born to mothers who were aged between 20 and 39 years old. Mothers of children born in 2010/11 (Birth Cohort 2) were more likely to be in their twenties (41% for BC1, 46% for BC2) and less likely to be in their thirties (48% for BC1, 44% for BC2) or ager 20 (8% for BC1, 6% for BC2).1

Children born in 2010/11 (BC2) were more likely than children born in 2004/5 (BC1) to be living in households with at least one adult educated to degree level (42% versus 34%).1

At 10 months of age, 79% of babies live with two parents while 21% live with a single parent.1

At this time, 50% of parents were married, 29% were cohabiting, 19% were single and 2% were either separated or divorced.2

More than half (53%) of families with a 10-month old baby in 2011/12 had no savings or investments.2

5% in BC2 of children are from an ethnic minority background.2

Over half (53%) of babies in Birth Cohort 2 aged 10 months have 4 grandparents alive. One third have between 1 and 3 grandparents. 13% of parents say that their children have more than 4 grandparents, as a result of re-partnering (of parents and/or grandparents).2



Child health

Children from more advantaged circumstances (high household income, least deprived areas) are more likely to be reported as having good health.1

Children born in 2010/11(BC2) were more likely than those born in 2004/5 (BC1) to have a long-term health condition (BC1 14%, BC2 17%).1

95% of children aged 10 months in 2011/12 (BC2) were described by their main carers as having ‘very good’ or ‘good’ health. This proportion has remained stable since 2005/06 (BC1).2

12% of babies in BC2 had a long-term condition or illness. Boys (13%) are more likely than girls (10%) to have a long-term condition or illness.2

5% of parents in BC2 reported some or a lot of concerns about their child’s development, learning, or behaviour. This is a reduction from 8% in 2005/06.2

9% of parents in the lowest household income group had concerns, compared with 4% in the two highest income groups.2


Parenting and children’s health

Policy measures to strengthen parenting skills may benefit children’s physical and mental health.  The health benefits of better parenting appear greatest for families experiencing higher levels of family adversity.1

However, given that day-to-day parenting accounts for some, but not all of the health inequalities linked to family adversity, and family adversity remained associated with poorer health outcomes after taking account of variations in parenting, programmes to improve parenting skills are likely to form only part of the solution to a reduction of social inequalities in health.1

Overweight, obesity and physical activity

Levels of child overweight and obesity increase with age.  At age 6 (BC1), during 2010/11, 24% of children in Scotland were overweight or obese. By age 10, this had increased to 34%.1 BMI at age 6 is closely associated with BMI at age 10.  Amongst children who were a healthy weight at age 6, 79% remained a healthy weight at age 10 whilst 20% became overweight or obese.  Similarly, 79% of children who were obese at age 6 remained obese at age 10 whilst 13% became overweight and 8% were a healthy weight. 1

At age 6 and age 10, children living in more disadvantaged circumstances were more likely to be overweight or obese than those in less disadvantaged circumstances.  The difference in levels of overweight/obesity between children in these different circumstances increased with age.  For example, at age 6, 24% of children living in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland were overweight or obese compared with 22% of those living in the 20% least deprived areas.  At age 10, 39% of children living in the most deprived areas were overweight or obese compared with 25% of children in the least deprived areas. 1

The factors associated with a child being overweight or obese at age 6 were: mothers being overweight or obese, frequent snacking on sweets or crisps as a toddler, skipping breakfast, not eating the main meal in a dining area of the home and low parental supervision generally. Mothers having a long-term health problem and mothers classing their local neighbourhood as not ‘child-friendly’ were also risk factors for children being overweight or obese at age 6.2

Neither low physical activity or high ‘screen time’ were associated with overweight or obesity at age 6. This is a common finding in studies looking at children at this age.2

The factors associated with a child being overweight or obese at age 10 were: being overweight/obese at age 6, having a mother who was obese when child was aged 6, skipping breakfast, high screen time and having a TV in the child’s bedroom.  Thus inactivity – and perhaps particularly a home environment which facilitates higher levels of inactivity – appears to play a more important role when children are slightly older.

Most mothers with an overweight or obese child described their six-year old child’s weight as ‘normal’, with only 14% recognising their child as overweight. Mother’s recognition of overweight was associated with greater concern for their child’s weight but greater recognition and concern at age 4 was not associated with child weight loss by age 6.2 When children are aged 10, most parents (63%) with a child who is obese describe their child as being ‘somewhat overweight’ though a significant minority (35%) believe their child’s weight to be ‘normal’.  Parents of children who are overweight (not obese) at age 10 overwhelmingly (88%) describe their child’s weight as ‘normal’. 1

These findings suggest that tackling overweight and obesity in early childhood may have beneficial longer term effects allowing children to maintain a healthy weight status into later childhood and potentially beyond.  The findings further suggest that ‘whole family’ approaches to reducing and preventing child obesity might be more effective than approaches that focus on the child only. At the neighbourhood level, better access to places where children can be physically active in a safe environment, including attractive green spaces, may increase activity levels and reduce sedentary behaviour amongst younger children.1, 2

 1 Bradshaw, P. and Hinchliffe, S. (2018) Growing Up in Scotland: Overweight and obesity at age 10, Edinburgh: Scottish Government

2 Parkes, A., Sweeting, H. and Wight, D. (2012) Growing Up in Scotland: Overweight, obesity and activity Edinburgh: Scottish Government


Child development

At three years of age, children born in 2010/11 (BC2) had a slightly higher vocabulary score than children born in 2004/5 (BC1). The increase in vocabulary ability between cohorts was experienced by children living in all the different socio-economic sub-groups.1

Time spent watching television has been shown to be strongly associated with disadvantage (low-income households, low levels of parental education and high area deprivation). In both GUS birth cohorts, 3-year-old children from more disadvantaged households were more likely to watch television for more than 3 hours on a typical weekday and over the course of a weekend.2


Cognitive development

Children who experience a wide range of activities from an early age (like being read to, singing nursery rhymes and drawing) score higher in cognitive ability tests at age 3 than children with less experience of these activities.1

Children from less advantaged households are less likely to experience a wide range of ‘home learning’ activities than children from more advantaged households.1

Experiencing a wide range of activities from an early age does have an impact on cognitive development and can moderate – although by no means eradicate – the effects of socio-demographic advantage.1


Social, emotional and behavioural development

Social, emotional and behavioural development is measured using the SDQ (Strengths and Weaknesses Questionnaire) a brief behavioural screening tool designed for use with 3-16 year olds.

At the point of entry to primary school, most children in Scotland do not have any social, emotional or behavioural difficulties as measured by the SDQ.1

Conduct problems are the most common type of difficulty amongst children at age 5, experienced by 27% of children. 17% of children experience difficulties with hyperactivity while 15% are reported to have peer relationship problems. 10% of children have emotional difficulties at age 5. These proportions broadly match that which is expected from any community population.2


Socioeconomic factors

Comparing children in the highest and lowest income quintiles:1

Growing Up in Scotland graphic


Maternal Employment

Mothers who had a child in 2010/11(BC2) were more likely to remain in work after childbirth and during the first five years of their child’s life.1



Parenting and support

GUS collects information about ‘formal’ support for parents in the form of services provided by the Health service, local authorities and the voluntary sector. It also collects information about ‘informal’ support – information, advice and help from friends, family and the local community.

Formal support

Most parents see professionals as a source of help. GPs are the most commonly used formal service for families with children under 2 years. 87% of children aged 1-2 had been taken to see a GP in the last year, while 62% had seen a health visitor.1

69% of first-time mothers having babies in 2010/11 (BC2) attended all or most of their antenatal classes. Younger mothers are less likely to attend classes than older mothers. The most common reasons for not attending are ‘not liking the group format’ and not knowing where classes were held.2

Younger mothers are significantly more likely than older mothers to be wary of interference from professionals and of being judged by others. However, younger mothers are more likely than older mothers to say that they want more support from professionals like health visitors.2

Parents with more negative attitudes towards services are more likely to have lower household incomes, are less likely to be in employment and more likely to have lower educational qualifications.  They are also less likely to have confidence in themselves as a parent and to have low actual service use. It is unclear whether low service use results from reluctance or whether reluctance stems from prior poor experience of services.3


Informal support (Birth Cohort 1)

Grandparents are a key source of support for most families in Scotland. 95% of families with children under 5 receive some type of help or support from grandparents and many receive a full range of support including regular childcare, babysitting, taking children on outings and providing financial or material support.1

Around three-quarters of parents feel that they receive enough support from family and friends. One-fifth of parents feel that they do not get enough help, or none at all.2

Older mothers and mothers in couple families are more likely to attend baby/toddler groups than younger mothers and lone mothers.3

Parents with weaker networks of family and/or friends score lower in terms of emotional well-being than other parents with stronger networks.2

Parents with stronger social networks engage in more activities with their children (such as reading stories and singing nursery rhymes) and also more open to seeking and using help and support from more formal sources when they need it.2




Around half of parents (52%) regularly used childcare for their child aged 10 months in 20011/12 (BC1).1

Grandparents are the most common type of childcare used in Scotland (BC2), used by 69% of families with babies using childcare. 27% of families use nurseries, 18% use ‘other informal care’ (friends and siblings) while 10% of families use childminders.1

Many families use more than one childcare provider. 59% of families with a child aged just under 4 used more than one provider. The most common form of  ‘multiple’ childcare arrangement is the child’s grandparent(s) plus some other form of care, usually nursery.2

Parents using more than one childcare provider are no less satisfied with their arrangements than parents using just one provider.2

In terms of the characteristics of pre-school education that have an impact on child development outcomes between the ages of 3 and 5 – of the various characteristics considered – type of provision, quality of provision, weekly duration of attendance, the size of the pre-school setting and having attended a nursery or playgroup setting prior to starting pre-school – only the grading on the Care Inspectorate’s theme of ‘care and support’ was found to be associated with assessed child outcomes, after controlling for differences in children’s backgrounds.3

On average, 4 year olds in 2014 spent just over two hours per week longer at their main Early Learning or Childcare provider than 4 year olds in 2008/09.3



Early experiences of primary school

Entry to school

87% of children started school the year they were eligible to while 13% were deferred until the following school year. Almost half of all children born during January and February were deferred. Boys were more likely than girls to experience deferred entry – 15% of boys, compared with 9% of girls. The rate of deferral did not vary by parents’ level of education, household income or area deprivation. The most common reasons given for deferral were that parents felt that their child was ‘not ready for school’ (44%) or not old enough (32%). 5% of parents had deferred following advice from their child’s nursery.1


The transition to school  

Most parents felt that their child had been ready to start school but children starting school aged under 5 and those starting at over 5.5 years (and more likely to have been deferred) were more likely to be perceived as less ready.1

Almost all parents had done some activities to prepare their child for school, like visiting the school, talking to their child about school and practising letters and numbers. Parents with higher levels of education were more likely to have done a greater number of preparation activities than those with lower educational qualifications.1

Most parents (92%) said that their child had adjusted well to school. However about one third of children had complained about school or were sometimes reluctant to go. Boys had more problems adjusting than girls, as did children with higher social, emotional and behavioural difficulties scores and lower cognitive ability scores.1


Contact with the school and teachers

The majority of parents (94%) had attended a parents’ evening since their child started P1. The main reasons for attending were to find out about their child’s progress (81%) and to ask if their child had settled in well and made friends (22%). Almost half of parents had spoken to their child’s teacher outwith a parents’ event. 86% of parents felt their child’s teacher knew their child well and him or her appropriate support.1

Two-thirds of parents had received information or advice from the school about how to help their child to learn. Almost all of these parents found the information useful.1


Parental involvement

Parents were asked whether they had participated in a range of activities since their child had started Primary 1. The most common activity was visiting the child’s classroom (86%) followed by attending a school event in which their child had participated (81%). 24% of parents had attended a Parent Council, PTA or other such meeting while 19% of parents had volunteered in the classroom, school office or library.1

5% of parents had not taken part in any activities or event at their child’s school. Couple families, older mothers, parents in less deprived areas and those with higher educational qualifications reported higher levels of involvement.1



Child well-being at age 7

These findings are from a project that investigated family and school influences on children’s social and emotional well-being at age 7 (BC1). Both children’s behavioural and emotional difficulties and their subjective well-being are considered.

11% of children have high levels of behavioural and emotional problems as assessed through the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) – parent reported.1

For the purposes of the analysis, 25% of children were classed as having low life satisfaction, as assessed using an abbreviated version of the Huebner Life Satisfaction Scale, developed for use with children aged 7-14. Children were asked to respond to 5 items (Do you … feel that your life is going well, wish your life was different, feel that your life is just right, feel you have what you want in life, feel that you have a good life?) using a 4-point scale (never, sometimes, often, always).1

Children with high levels of emotional and behavioural difficulties are more likely to report low levels of life satisfaction (39%) than those with normal levels (24%).1

Factors associated with both child mental health problems (behavioural and emotional difficulties) and low subjective well-being are: greater mother-child conflict and lower parental knowledge of the child’s activities and relationships when not at school; difficulties adjusting to the learning and social environment at primary school; and the child having poorer quality friendships with other children.1

Economic factors and some other aspects of family life (including family structure and the child’s leisure activities) are not clearly associated with either measure of social and emotional well-being, after allowing for other influences.1

Family stressors such as poor maternal health, family mental health/ substance use problems and low maternal warmth are associated with child mental health problems but not child subjective well-being.1

Experiencing a recent death, illness or accident in the family, and less positive parenting were associated with children’s subjective well-being, irrespective of levels of behavioural and emotional difficulties.1




At the age of 10, most children have relationships with their fathers that can be classed as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, with girls reporting slightly more positive relationships than boys.1  It is also more common for a child to have a poor relationship with their father (16%) than with their mother (8%).1

Research using GUS data1 has identified several factors associated with a poor father-child relationship at age 10:

  • Early childhood predictors (measured when the child was aged 10 months and/or 2 years) of a poor father-child relationship at age 10 include low socio-economic status, the father working for a small employer or being self-employed, and the family living in a remote area of Scotland. Nineteen percent of fathers who were self-employed when their child was aged 2 had a poor relationship with their child when he/she was aged 10 compared with 12% of fathers working for employers in professional/managerial roles.
  • ‘Current’ predictors of a poor father-child relationship at the time the child is aged 10 include low socio-economic status, recent adverse events in the child’s life (e.g. illness or bereavement) and living with a ‘father figure’ rather than with a biological father.

A good relationship between a father and his child has greatly beneficial effects on the child’s socio-emotional wellbeing. This is the case even when controlling for other factors that are likely to influence a child’s wellbeing, such as socio-economic status and the quality of the mother-child relationship.1

Furthermore, although many fathers believe that job-sharing or working flexible or part-time hours enables them to be more active in the upbringing of their child, they are less likely to be offered these options by their employers than mothers.2

1 Parkes, A., Riddell, J., Wight, D. & Buston, K. (2017): ‘Growing up in Scotland: father-child relationships and child socio-emotional wellbeing’, Scottish Government

2 Kadar-Sadat, G. & Koslowski, A. (2015): ‘Fathers in the early years: How do they balance their work and family life?’ Edinburgh: Scottish Government & Family Friendly Working Scotland

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