Researchers from the ECHILD (Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data) team at University College London have developed a cohort of mothers and their children, which includes 4 million clusters of mothers and only-children, and 4 million clusters of mothers and children with siblings. Being able to analyse data like this, within families, gives us an opportunity to delve more deeply into the part that family dynamics have to play on child health and development.

More than half of the UK population grow up with at least one brother or sister, and we know from previous research that interaction with siblings contributes to the development of different types of personalities and health behaviours. For example, only-children are more likely to have lower fitness levels and to be obese in late adolescence compared with children with siblings. However, living with a sibling with a long-term illness can increase the risk of mental, behavioural and social problems.

Whilst we are starting to understand more about the importance of siblings and household dynamics, previous studies have been limited by small sample sizes and a lack of comprehensive population coverage. ECHILD provides a solution to this by bringing together health, education and children’s social care data on the entire population of children in England. By linking children to their mothers using information captured in their delivery and birth records, we have identified a total of 8 million mother-child clusters, covering 87% of livebirths in England between April 1997 and January 2021.

In these data, we have found that among sibling clusters, there are a mean of 2.4 children per mother. The median birth interval was 3.0 years. Compared with only-children, children with siblings were more likely to live in more deprived areas, and have younger mothers, but were less likely to be very low birth weight (<1500g) or to have been admitted to special neonatal care after birth. Through linkage with longitudinal health and education data, the cohort provides huge potential for addressing a diverse range of research questions relating to family dynamics.


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Qi Feng, Senior Data Scientist, Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London.

Feng, Q., Ireland, G., Gilbert, R. and Harron, K. (2023) “Data Resource Profile: ECHILD only-children and siblings (ECHILD-oCSib): a national cohort of linked health, education and social care data on mothers and children in England ”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 8(6). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v8i6.2392.