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Social inequality in educational achievement and psychosocial adjustment throughout childhood: magnitude and mechanisms


  • Sacker, Amanda
  • Schoon, Ingrid
  • Bartley, Mel


The paper examines the hypothesis that social inequalities in children's developmental resources level off during adolescence against an alternative hypothesis that they continue to exert their influence throughout all of childhood. Using data from the National Child Development Study, the study applies two models. Both are premised on the understanding that the social and physical environments in which children are raised affects their resources in the domains of educational achievement and psychosocial adjustment. A 'class inequalities' model seeks to determine the extent of social class inequalities at three key stages in children's development: the transition from infant to junior schooling at age 7, from primary to secondary education at age 11 and from compulsory education to further education or work at age 16. The second model is a contextual-systems model which seeks to expand our understanding of the pathways from family social class to children's educational achievement and psychosocial adjustment through some more proximal determinants of these resources: material deprivation, school composition, parental involvement and aspirations. Social class inequalities in educational achievement were found to be greater than inequalities in psychosocial adjustment. The same developmental pattern was observed for both outcomes: inequalities increased from age 7 to age 11 and then remained at the same level at 16Â yr. The contextual-systems models showed that when social inequalities are interpreted more broadly than a narrow class based definition, they continue to widen in adolescence. In particular, family influences, indicated by parental involvement become less important and social contexts beyond the family, reflected in material conditions and school composition, become more important. At age 16, material deprivation was the strongest determinant of psychosocial adjustment while school composition was most strongly related to educational achievement. The contextual-systems model provides a more complete account of social inequalities in children's educational achievement and psychosocial adjustment than simple estimates of social class effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Sacker, Amanda & Schoon, Ingrid & Bartley, Mel, 2002. "Social inequality in educational achievement and psychosocial adjustment throughout childhood: magnitude and mechanisms," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 55(5), pages 863-880, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:55:y:2002:i:5:p:863-880

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    Cited by:

    1. Riccardo Borgoni & Ann Berrington & Peter Smith, 2012. "Selecting and fitting graphical chain models to longitudinal data," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 715-738, April.
    2. Wang Sophie Xuefei, 2014. "The Effect of Parental Migration on the Educational Attainment of Their Left-Behind Children in Rural China," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 14(3), pages 1-44, July.
    3. Darcy Hango, 2005. "Parental Investment in Childhood and Later Adult Well-Being: Can More Involved Parents Offset the Effects of Socioeconomic Disadvantage?," CASE Papers 098, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    4. Del Bono, Emilia & Francesconi, Marco & Kelly, Yvonne & Sacker, Amanda, 2014. "Early Maternal Time Investment and Early Child Outcomes," IZA Discussion Papers 8608, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. John Hobcraft, 2007. "Child Development, the Life Course, and Social Exclusion: Are the Frameworks Used in the UK Relevant for Developing Countries?," Working Papers id:1060, eSocialSciences.
    6. repec:esx:essedp:756 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. del Bono, Emilia & Francesconi, Marco, 2014. "Early Maternal Time Investment and Early Child Outcomes," CEPR Discussion Papers 10231, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Carol Propper & John A. Rigg, 2007. "Socio-Economic Status and Child Behaviour: Evidence from a contemporary UK cohort," CASE Papers case125, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    9. Hango, Darcy, 2005. "Parental investment in childhood and later adult well-being: can more involved parents offset the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 6262, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    10. repec:cep:sticas:/125 is not listed on IDEAS


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