Spatializing Educational Inequalities. Spatial Econometric Models of Neighborhood Effects on Elementary Students' Mathematical Achievement in Zurich, Switzerland.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Christoph ZANGGER, University of Bern, Switzerland
In the last 30 years we witnessed a wide range of research on neighborhood effects on various outcomes, such as people’s health, labor market involvement or educational attainment (Jencks & Mayer 1990; Sampson et al. 2002; Galster 2012). However, the results of these studies differ considerably in both the direction and magnitude of the effects. On the one hand, this seems to be due to a lack of an adequate elaboration of the theoretical social mechanisms (Hedström 2005; Sharkey & Faber 2014). On the other hand, this undesirable situation can be explained – at least partially – by the applied methods (Galster & Hedman 2013). While the well-known challenges of an adequate modelling of the spatial scale of “neighborhood” (Lupton 2003), the presence of selection bias (Heckman 1979), and the inherent endogeneity (Manski 1993) have received some attention, the spatial dependence of observational units has been neglected completely. This dependence leads to a fundamental mismatch between our theoretical and our methodological framework, whereas the first assumes social interdependence and the latter statistical independence of observational units. 

Using spatial econometric techniques (Ward & Gleditsch 2008; Elhorst 2014), the present contribution not only addresses the methodological challenges but also models the suggested social mechanisms – the adoption of norms and the social integration and interaction in the local context (Galster 2012) – directly. The results indicate heterogeneous neighborhood effects on elementary students’ mathematical achievement in 6th grade. While students with a more fortunate social background benefit from socially advantaged and competitive peers, the more disadvantaged ones and especially boys are negatively affected by their presence in the local context. Taken together, the results suggest local social integration and interaction as the crucial mediating mechanisms and stress the relevance of local spaces for the reproduction and reinforcement of educational and social inequalities.