Two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are three times more likely to develop difficulties with language than those from more affluent areas, according to a new Scottish study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Researchers say the findings highlight the need for policy makers to address the social factors that can hinder speech, language and communication (SLC) development.
Failing to do so means children might not fully develop the language skills necessary for emotional development, wellbeing and educational and employment opportunities.
“Growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood where there is poverty and reduced access to services is closely associated with problems with preschool language development,” said Professor James Boardman of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health.
“These results suggest that policies designed to lessen deprivation could reduce language and communication difficulties among pre-school children.”
For the study, a research team from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian in Scotland looked at more than 26,000 records of children who had received a routine health review between 27 and 30 months between April 2013 and April 2016.
The findings show that two-year-olds living in the most economically deprived neighborhoods were three times more likely to have SLC concerns compared to those brought up in better-off areas.
It is believed that growing up in neighborhoods with low income and unemployment — which is related to problems with education, health, access to services, crime and housing — can increase the risk of setbacks.
The researchers also discovered that being born prematurely had an impact on language issues. The findings show that each week a child spent in the womb from 23 to 36 weeks was associated with an 8.8% reduction in the likelihood of the children having an SLC concern reported at 27 months.
A pregnancy is considered full term between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, 6 days, while preterm birth is defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Socioeconomic disadvantage has also been associated with a greater risk for preterm birth.
Although the research team looked at birth data from children born in the Lothians, experts say similar results might be expected across the United Kingdom.
Source: University of Edinburgh
Having a job and being employed is known to improve mental health and life satisfaction. A new study shows, however, that this benefit is achieved in much less than 40 hours a week.
The finding is pertinent as automation advances. Indeed, predictions of a jobless future have some fearing unrest from mass unemployment, while others imagine a more contented work-free society.
Nonetheless, aside from economic factors, paid employment brings other benefits — often psychological — such as self-esteem and social inclusion. In a new study, researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Salford sought to define a recommended “dosage” of work for optimal wellbeing.
Investigators examined how changes in working hours were linked to mental health and life satisfaction in over 70,000 UK residents between 2009 and 2018.
Researchers discovered that when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30 percent.
Yet researchers found no evidence that working any more than eight hours provided further boosts to wellbeing. The full-time standard of 37 to 40 hours was not significantly different to any other working time category when it came to mental health.
As such, they suggest that to get the mental wellbeing benefits of paid work, the most “effective dose” is only around one day a week — as anything more makes little difference.
The study appears in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
“We have effective dosage guides for everything from Vitamin C to hours of sleep in order to help us feel better, but this is the first time the question has been asked of paid work,” said study co-author Dr Brendan Burchell, a sociologist from Cambridge University.
“We know unemployment is often detrimental to people’s wellbeing, negatively affecting identity, status, time use, and sense of collective purpose. We now have some idea of just how much paid work is needed to get the psychosocial benefits of employment – and it’s not that much at all.”
Supporting the unemployed in a future with limited work is the subject of much policy discussion. However, researchers argue that employment should be retained across adult populations, but working weeks dramatically reduced for work to be redistributed.
“In the next few decades we could see artificial intelligence, big data and robotics replace much of the paid work currently done by humans,” said Salford University’s Dr Daiga Kamerāde, the study’s first author.
“If there is not enough for everybody who wants to work full-time, we will have to rethink current norms. This should include the redistribution of working hours, so everyone can get the mental health benefits of a job, even if that means we all work much shorter weeks.”
“Our findings are an important step in thinking what the minimum amount of paid work people might need in a future with little work to go round,” she said.
The study used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study to track the wellbeing of 71,113 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 as they changed working hours over the nine-year period. People were asked about issues such as anxiety and sleep problems to gauge mental health.
Researchers also found that self-reported life satisfaction in men increased by around 30 percent with up to eight hours of paid work, although women didn’t see a similar jump until working 20 hours.
They note that “the significant difference in mental health and wellbeing is between those with paid work and those with none”, and that the working week could be shortened considerably “without a detrimental effect on the workers’ mental health and wellbeing”.
The team offer creative policy options for moving into a future with limited work, including “five-day weekends”, working just a couple of hours a day, or increasing annual holiday from weeks to months — even having two months off for every month at work.
They also argue that working-hour reduction and redistribution could improve work-life balance, increase productivity, and cut down CO2 emissions from commuting. However, they point out that reduction of hours would need to be for everyone, to avoid increasing socioeconomic inequalities.
“The traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people. Our research suggests that micro-jobs provide the same psychological benefits as full-time jobs,” said co-author and Cambridge sociologist Senhu Wang.
“However, the quality of work will always be crucial. Jobs where employees are disrespected or subject to insecure or zero-hours contracts do not provide the same benefits to wellbeing, nor are they likely to in the future.”
Dr Burchell added: “If the UK were to plough annual productivity gains into reduced working hours rather than pay rises, the normal working week could be four days within a decade.”
Source: University of Cambridge