Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Socio-Economic Status and Academic Achievement Trajectories from Childhood to Adolescence

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Socio-Economic Status and Academic Achievement Trajectories from Childhood to Adolescence

Article excerpt

Although a positive relationship between socio-economic status and academic achievement is well-established, how it varies with age is not. This article uses four data points from Canada's National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth (NLSCY) to examine how the academic achievement gap attributed to SES changes from childhood to adolescence (ages 7 to 15). Estimates of panel data and hierarchical linear models indicate that the gap remains fairly stable from the age of 7 to 11 years and widens at an increasing rate from the age of 11 to the age of 15 years. Theoretical arguments and policy implications surrounding this finding are discussed.

Key words: SES, academic achievement, early adolescence, growth model

Bien qu'on sache depuis longtemps qu'il existe un lien entre le statut socioeconomique et le rendement scolaire, il reste encore a determiner dans quelle mesure ce lien varie en fonction de l'age. Cet article a recours a quatre points de donnees tires de l'Enquete longitudinale nationale sur les enfants et les jeunes (ELNEJ) du Canada en vue de mesurer comment les differences dans le rendement scolaire attribuees au statut socioeconomique changent de l'enfance a l'adolescence (de 7 a 15 ans). Des estimations tirees de donnees recueillies au moyen d'un panel ainsi que des modeles hierarchiques lineaires indiquent que les differences demeurent relativement stables entre 7 ans et 11 ans et deviennent de plus en plus marquees entre 11 ans et 15 ans. Les auteurs font l'analyse des arguments theoriques et des incidences sur les politiques entourant cette conclusion.

Mots cles : statut socioeconomique, rendement scolaire, debut de l'adolescence, modele de croissance.


Extensive research in the sociology of education offers conclusive evidence of a positive relationship between family socio-economic status (SES) and the academic achievement of students (Sirin, 2005; White, 1982). In this research strand, it is fairly standard to define family SES as the relative position of individuals or families within a hierarchical social structure, based on their access to, or control over, wealth, prestige, and power (Mueller & Parcel, 1981), although no strong consensus exists on the conceptual meaning of SES (Bornstein & Bradley, 2003). And, a single SES variable is operationalized through measures characterizing parental education, parental occupational prestige, and family income (Gottfried, 1985; Hauser, 1994; Mueller & Parcel, 1981).

The relationship between family SES and academic achievement is referred to in the literature as a socioeconomic gradient because it is gradual and increases across the range of SES (Adler et al., 1994; Willms, 2002, 2003), or as a socio-economic gap because it implies a gap in academic achievement between students of high and low SES families. Scholars have shown that a socio-economic gap in the early school years has lasting consequences. Particularly, as low SES children get older their situation tends to worsen. Because of their relatively poor skills, they are prone to leave school early (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani, 2001; Battin-Pearson et al., 2000; Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989; Janosz, LeBlanc, Boulerice, & Tremblay, 1997; Rumberger, 2004; Schargel, 2004) and are less likely to be assigned to the college preparatory track (Condron, 2007; Davies & Guppy, 2006; Krahn & Taylor, 2007; Maaz, Trautwein, Ludtke, & Baumert, 2008; Schnabel, Alfeld, Eccles, Koller, & Baumert, 2002). In the longer term, they are less likely to enter the labour market successfully or pursue post-secondary education (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2007; Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; Kerckhoff, Raudenbush, & Glennie, 2001; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] & Statistics Canada, 2000; Raudenbush & Kasim, 1998).

That educational and labour opportunities are unequally distributed among individuals of varying SES poses concerns and challenges in societies that value equal opportunity irrespective of socio-economic background. …

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