NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Peer Pressure Affects Academic Performance

August 8, 2000

While most educators believe peer pressure has an impact on children's achievement, few studies have been done to prove that belief. However, a recent Heritage Foundation study found that negative peer pressure is a factor in lower test scores about as much as being a Hispanic or black minority group member -- and more than living in a low income family.

Researchers analyzed responses to background questions asked students taking the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test, and correlated them with test scores.

  • Among fourth graders, almost 36 percent of African-Americans and 29 percent of Hispanics say their "friends make fun of people who try to do well in school," compared to just over 17 percent of whites.
  • Among eighth graders the numbers are more even, but still high; almost 30 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of blacks and of whites agree with the above statement.

The effect of peer pressure was calculated independent from other factors which affect a child's academic achievement -- race, income, gender and parents' education:

  • For instance, compared to a fourth grade white girl from a nonpoor family, being an African-American was associated with an 8.6 percent lower test score, and being a Hispanic was associated with an 8.2 percent lower score.
  • Negative peer pressure was associated with an 8.5 percent lower test score.
  • Being from a low-income family was associated with a test score drop of 6.1 percent

Although the study found negative peer pressure had less effect on eighth grade test scores, the numbers may not contradict educators' claim that peer pressure increases as a child grows up and peaks during adolescence, say researchers, because as a child develops the pressure shifts from academics to social issues, such as smoking and drinking.

Source: Kirk A. Johnson, "The Peer Effect on Academic Achievement Among Public Elementary Students," CDA Report No. 00-06, May 26, 2000, Heritage Center for Data Analysis, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington D.C., 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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