Academic journal article Education

A Theoretical Framework of the Relation between Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement of Students

Academic journal article Education

A Theoretical Framework of the Relation between Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement of Students

Article excerpt


Social stratification has emerged as a pervasive phenomenon across the globe. Different schools of thoughts provide clues to why people fall into prey of poverty. According to the culture of poverty (Lewis, 1966), the poor are accused as the culprit of poverty. The poor are susceptible to the subculture of hopelessness, despair and fatalism. The poor cannot delay the gratification but seek the immediate gratification instead. This gradual adaptation to life impedes the poor's incentive to improve life. As a result, intergenerational downward mobility perpetuates across generations. Apart from the culture of poverty, another school of thought postulates poverty as a result of the structural strain of the economy. As the poor are constrained by low human capital and discrimination, the poor face the difficulty to locate the jobs. These two schools of thoughts share commonalities but nuances can still be found. While the culture of poverty postulates that the poor lack the incentive to undergo socialization, the latter thesis posits that the poor are ineligible for jobs because of low education. Education arises as one key component to affect the wellbeing of the poor. This paper is going to unravel intricate pathway between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.

A plethora of academic studies pertains to elucidate the relation between socioeconomic status and academic performance. Two major findings can be summarized from a myriad of studies. Firstly, a positive relation has been found between socioeconomic status and academic performance (Battle & Lewis, 2002; Haveman & Wolfe, 1995). Specifically, Duncan, Yeung, Brooks-Gunn and Smith (1998) found that "Children in families with incomes less than one-half of the poverty line were found to score between 6 and 13 points lower on the various standardized tests" (p.408). Secondly, the gradient between socioeconomic status and academic performance does not exhibit a monotonic effect. The socioeconomic status appears the most influential in early and middle childhood while the effect wanes in importance during adolescence (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Ram & Hou, 2003). On the other hand, Walberg and Maijoribands (1976) argued that the adolescents enjoyed the benefit from the stimulating home environment just like what the children did. All of the vehement opposition manifests the complex nature of the relation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.

Conceptual framework

In order to untangle the complexity between socioeconomic status and academic achievement, a socio-psychological approach will be adopted. This socio-psychological approach bears resemblance to Sociological Imagination proposed by Mills (1970) who adopted a comprehensive analytical framework by compromising public issues with the private troubles. Specifically, the current framework combines macro factors of the education system characterized by tracking with the micro factors of individual socioeconomic status. The framework continues to put in effect by having individual socioeconomic status as distal variables which exert influence on academic performance via a set of proximal variables including cultural capital, stress reaction, parenting, a triad nexus of parent-child-teacher expectation. The effect of distal and proximal variables on academic performance will be shown in diagram 1 and discussed respectively in the following section.


Under the credential societies, diploma or degree has long been used as the screening device to determine who is eligible for the jobs. This is comprehensible as the employers are not familiar with any candidates. The only reliable means is to rely on universities or schools which already screened out the best from the poor ones and credited the best students. Hence, the degree serves as a signal to the employers which applicant is the most qualified for the jobs according to the signaling hypothesis (Hamermesh & Rees, 1993). …

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