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Social class behind brainy IVF babies

1 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 618

New research has shown that socio-economic status plays a bigger role in a child's development than whether that child was born after a planned pregnancy.

A team from the University of Oxford found that unplanned children's language skills were equivalent to a 'developmental delay of more than five months', compared with those whose parents had planned to get pregnant. Additionally, they found that planned children lagged behind those born after IVF treatment by 'three or four months'. However, the authors say these differences can be explained by socio-economic status; the gaps 'almost entirely disappear' when the family's background is considered.

'This study shows how important it is to take social factors into account when looking at child outcomes', said Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford. 'Children from unplanned pregnancies have lower scores on cognitive tests than those from planned pregnancies, but they are also much more likely to come from single parent, low income households. Once this is taken into account, there is no impact of an unplanned pregnancy on children's development'.

The researchers analysed data on children included in the Millennium Cohort Study – a large nationally representative study that collected data from parents of children born between 2000 and 2001 when the children were 9 months old.

They used the British Ability Scale (BAS II) to test verbal ability in 11,790 singleton children at three years old, while a similar number of children - 12,136 - completed verbal, non-verbal and spatial tests at age five. Data was also collected on the socio-economic status of the family.

Advantages associated with a beneficial socio-economic position include more highly educated parents and more parental involvement. 'Children born after mistimed or unplanned pregnancies might have access to fewer educational resources, such as books, puzzles, trips to the library', the authors write in the paper, published in the British Medical Journal.

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