Social Inequality & Academic Achievement Gaps in Developed Countries

Monday, July 14, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Kristie PHILLIPS , Brigham Young University
Lance ERICKSON , Brigham Young University, UT
Chrisse EDMUNDS , Brigham Young University
International comparisons of cognitive skills suggest that equitable educational performance is just as important as high performance. Therefore, minimizing achievement gaps between wealthy and poor students is important for countries’ economic growth (Hanushek, et al. 2008; Coulombe and Tremblay 2006). Even within high-income countries that share similar levels of economic development, socioeconomic-based achievement gaps vary in size and shape. Nevertheless, the direction of these achievement gaps is consistent—with wealthier students having both greater opportunity and greater achievement (Hampden-Thompson and Johnston 2006).

This study offers a cross-national examination of the relationship between socioeconomic achievement gaps, societal-level inequality, and the role of social safety nets in reducing inequality in both income and cognitive skills. The cross-national variation in income inequality, social safety nets, and academic achievement gaps facilitates a direct examination of societal-level factors that are hypothesized to be important in determining the shape and size of country-specific achievement gaps.

To create country-level measures of income inequality, social safety nets, and achievement gaps, we use data from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as well as the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). In an attempt to draw comparisons between countries at similar levels of economic development, we restricted our analyses to 26 countries that belong to the World Bank high-income group (World Bank Country Classification 2013) and also participated in both PISA and LIS.

Our preliminary results suggest that developed countries with the smallest achievement gaps are likely to have higher performing low-SES students, and high performing high-SES students. Preliminary results also suggest a relationship between income inequality, social safety nets, and gaps in student achievement. Because our work identifies social and economic contexts that contribute to achievement gaps, our study demonstrates both barriers and possibilities that influence academic mobility.