Social Class and Educational Inequality

Today’s New York Times (http://tinyurl.com/oaqtm4b) provides new evidence of the impact of social class on educational achievement. The evidence comes from the Educational Longitudinal Study, which began tracking 15,000 high school sophomores in 2002; the students are now in their late 20s. A study using these data divided the students into four “social classes” based on their parents education, income, and occupation. Only 14% of the poorest students have a bachelor’s degree by now, compared to 60% of the wealthiest students. Even among students with similar scores on a math test they took in 2002, the wealthiest students were much more likely than the poorest students to obtain a bachelor’s degree. In fact, as the Times article noted, “a poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.”

Because  bright youths from poor backgrounds are less likely to go to college than their wealthier students who are less bright, this study provides compelling new evidence of the impact of social class on educational achievement. This impact becomes a vicious circle: if poor youths do not go to college, they are more likely to have low incomes as adults, and their own children will be less likely to go to college and graduate.

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