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Social class differences in parenting practices and their influence on children’s educational outcomes in Scotland and the United States

A large body of literature has investigated the existence of social class differences in children’s school outcomes. However, relatively less is known about the possible mechanisms through which this relationship operates.

We address the following questions:
•    Are there social class differences in children’s educational outcomes at age 10 in Scotland and the U.S.A?
•    To what extent do differences in parenting practices explain the observed social class differences in children’s outcomes?
•    Do different mechanisms operate within each national context?

Type of inequality
Drawing inspiration from Laureau’s work on social class and family life, this study explores the role of child-rearing practices in families of different social background, and how these contribute to shape the observed differences in children’s educational outcomes by social class. The hypothesis is that practices of concerted cultivation (such as parental involvement in school activities and children’s participation to out-of-school structured activities) will allow children to develop language use, reasoning skills and the ability to interact with (and benefit from) social institutions, and therefore positively influence their school performances.

Method
The study uses quantitative longitudinal data on Scotland (Growing up in Scotland) and the United States (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study) and uses the two countries as case studies to test the assumption that social class differences in educational outcomes may operate via different child-rearing practices in different national contexts. We measure educational outcomes when children are aged approximately 10 years old using objective tests of cognitive achievement as well as teachers’ assessment of the child’s academic skills and classroom behaviour.

Key findings
Analyses are still on-going but preliminary findings for the US indicate that parental education has a direct effect on child outcomes but that some of this effect is mediated through parental practices, including children’s attendance at structured cultural and other extracurricular activities and parental involvement in the school. Preliminary analyses for Scotland on the other hand suggest a more modest role of parental practices in explaining the observed differences by parental education in child outcomes.

Policy implications
The analyses will highlight the ways in which out-of-school activities can influence the skills children bring to the school context, identifying potential ways in which support for parents and/or the provision of community-based activities could help to enhance outcomes for more disadvantaged families

If you have any questions about this research, please contact Professor Brian An

Research Team

Professor Brian An
Associate Professor
Dr Francesca Fiori
Senior Research Fellow