Socio-economic background affects school performance

In a new paper Jamila E. Hassan investigates the relationship between parents´ socio-economic status and their children´s performance at school. The data come from the unique longitudinal study "Children´s level of living - the impact of family economy for children´s lives".

Nina Eriksen Published:

Socio-economic background
Most parents in the case sample have a secondary level education, and the education level of the fathers was slightly higher than that of the mothers. Both parents in the control group have on average a higher education than those in the case sample. The association between parental education level and childrens academic performance was moderate in the case sample.

Eighty-two per cent of the fathers (N=284) and 62 per cent of the mothers (N=369) in the case sample were employed, while employment in the control group was 85 per cent (N=103) for the mothers and 94 per cent (N= 90) for the fathers. The analysis shows a positive association between the childrens school grades and their parents labour market status.

Cultural background
Parents cultural background affects through mediation of access to education and labour market. We found that education levels and employment improve as we go from the non-western immigrants to western immigrants, Norwegian to mixed parents.

Jamila E. Hassan (c) NOVA

As regards the association between childrens academic performance and cultural background, the analysis showed a positive weak association between cultural background and pupils performance. In other words, pupils performance improves when we move from non-western immigrants to western immigrants, native Norwegians to MIX. Note that when controlling for education and employment (within a regression framework), the differences between children with different parental backgrounds vanishes.

Family structure
The effect of family structure is also tested for, with categories for those living with lone mothers, lone fathers, parents and step-parents. The analysis showed no significant effects of family structure on pupils performance. A number of previous studies of representative samples found that girls score significantly higher than boys. This difference is also found between boys and girls in our sample of families with a recent poverty history.

Homework assistance
Assistance with homework was studied as a means of testing the association between parents socioeconomic status and childrens academic performance. The test showed that native Norwegians parents are most likely to help their children with homework (85 per cent) followed by MIX parents (84 per cent), western immigrants (67 per cent) and non-western immigrants (46 per cent). Furthermore, the proportion ofthose who get no assistance at all is very high among the non-western immigrant (19 per cent) group compared to 3 per cent among nativeNorwegiansand western immigrants, and zero for the MIX category. The test showed a considerable positive association between assistance with homework and childrens achievement, regardless of the source of assistance. 
About the study
The data were collected in the second round of the longitudinal project " Children´s level of living - the impact of family economy for children´s lives" (Barns levekår - betydningen av familiens inntekt). A case sample was composed of children in families who lived below the poverty line in 2000, while a control group comprised all categories in the community in the same year. The poverty threshold was defined as 60 per cent of the median income. Here a subset of 499 pupils at lower secondary education is analyzed, 388 of them are in the case sample and 111 in the control group.

The children are aged 13 to 15, and are between their eight and tenth year of schooling. Fifty-nine per cent of the pupils in the case sample are native Norwegians, 15 per cent are western immigrants, 18 per cent are non-western immigrants, and 9 per cent are mixed, with one Norwegian and one immigrant parent.

Proxies used for parents socioeconomic status are their educational level, employment and cultural background; and for childrens educational attainment, their grades in Norwegian, maths and English. The analysis methods used are cross tabulation and small population proportion and regression.

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NOVA Notat 7/09
Parents socioeconomic status and childrens academic performance
Jamila Elhag Hassan

For more information contact project leader Mona Sandbæk,