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Socioeconomic related inequalities in students' mathematics achievement in the European Union

This paper examines the degree of socioeconomic related inequalities in mathematics achievement for students from the European Union and presents some possible sources for the exhibited differences between countries. We applied a methodology which has been used in health economics literature namely by Wagstaff et al. (1991) and Kakwani et al. (1997). We selected parental highest level of education as a proxy for students’ socioeconomic background. Results confirm a significant inequality in achievement favouring the higher socioeconomic groups in all countries. Germany has the greatest socioeconomic related mathematics achievement inequality, followed by Greece, Great Britain and Portugal. Sweden, by contrast, is the country where the socioeconomic related inequality in PISA maths scores seems to be lower. The paper also decomposes the inequality index into the contributions of some socioeconomic factors. Socioeconomic inequality has a sizeable contribution for socioeconomic related inequality in mathematic achievement in very country. Cross-country comparison shows that in some countries, such as Belgium, Denmark or Great Britain, the impact of socioeconomic background on students’ achievement appears to be more important to determine the “excess” of socioeconomic related inequality in mathematics achievement than the inequality in the distribution of the socioeconomic variable. In other group of countries, that includes Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, it is the inequality in the distribution of the socioeconomic variable itself that mainly explains the “excess” of socioeconomic related inequality in mathematics achievement. Portugal is a striking case exhibiting poor mathematic score, a high level of socioeconomic inequality and a high level of socioeconomic related inequality in students’ performance. Moreover, the inequality in family books possession is also a strong predictor for inequality in students’ math achievement.

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Paper provided by Núcleo de Investigação em Microeconomia Aplicada (NIMA), Universidade do Minho in its series NIMA Working Papers with number 38.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nim:nimawp:38/2008
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