NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say

February 16, 2012

While researchers have focused for years on the race gap in educational achievement, recent studies show that the gap has decreased substantially in recent years.  However, the achievement gap between children of high-income families and low-income families has grown significantly over the same period of time, says the New York Times.

  • Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist, found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s.
  • In another study, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion -- the single most important predictor of success in the work force -- has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.
  • During these same decades, the gap between whites and blacks shrunk by a large margin.

A number of factors explain why children of high-income households outperform their low-income classmates.  Much of the difference stems from the fact that, because a family has fewer resources in general, it has fewer resources to dedicate to a child's education.

  • Meredith Phillips, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers or schools.
  • She also found that, by the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities.
  • Additionally, wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children, including extracurricular activities that aid cognitive development and direct assistance with schooling.
  • A 2007 study found that wealthy parents spent nine times as much per child as low-income parents did.

Education, long recognized as the great equalizer, no longer appears to be aiding that end.

Source: Sabrina Tavernise, "Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say," New York Times, February 9, 2012.

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