BMJ Open 2:e001075 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001075
  • Public health
    • Research

Jurisdictional, socioeconomic and gender inequalities in child health and development: analysis of a national census of 5-year-olds in Australia

  1. John W Lynch3,11
  1. 1Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
  2. 2Health Sciences, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
  3. 3School of Population Health, Discipline of Public Health, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia
  4. 4The Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Sciences, Darwin, Australia
  5. 5Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Childrens Hospital, Melbourne, Australia
  6. 6Murdoch Children's Research Institute, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  7. 7School of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  8. 8Schizophrenia Research Institute, Sydney, Australia
  9. 9Offord Centre for Child Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
  10. 10Human Early Learning Partnership, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
  11. 11School of Social and Community Medicine, The University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Sally Anne Brinkman; sallyb{at}
  • Received 20 April 2012
  • Accepted 27 July 2012
  • Published 4 September 2012


Objectives Early child development may have important consequences for inequalities in health and well-being. This paper explores population level patterns of child development across Australian jurisdictions, considering socioeconomic and demographic characteristics.

Design Census of child development across Australia.

Setting and participants Teachers complete a developmental checklist, the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI), for all children in their first year of full-time schooling. Between May and July 2009, the AEDI was collected by 14 628 teachers in primary schools (government and non-government) across Australia, providing information on 261 147 children (approximately 97.5% of the estimated 5-year-old population).

Outcome measures Level of developmental vulnerability in Australian children for five developmental domains: physical well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills and communication skills and general knowledge.

Results The results show demographic and socioeconomic inequalities in child development as well as within and between jurisdiction inequalities. The magnitude of the overall level of inequality in child development and the impact of covariates varies considerably both between and within jurisdiction by sex. For example, the difference in overall developmental vulnerability between the best-performing and worst-performing jurisdiction is 12.5% for males and 7.1% for females. Levels of absolute social inequality within jurisdictions range from 8.2% for females to 12.7% for males.

Conclusions The different mix of universal and targeted services provided within jurisdictions from pregnancy to age 5 may contribute to inequality across the country. These results illustrate the potential utility of a developmental census to shed light on the impact of differences in universal and targeted services to support child development by school entry.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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