Income Inequality and Children's Educational Outcomes

Other External Scholars:
Christopher Jencks, Harvard University
Internal Appropriation , Russell Sage Foundation
Project Date:
Aug 2006
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Both the rise of income inequality in the last thirty years and the existence of large gaps in academic success between children of rich and poor families are well-known facts, but less is known about the relationship between the two. How much of the rich-poor achievement gap in education can be attributed to inequality in family income? And does income inequality affect children early in life, in adolescence, or cumulatively? Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks and social policy doctoral student Ann Owens will investigate the effect of relative parental income at different stages in children’s lives on their educational achievements. Using Census data, the Current Population Survey, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the National Center for Educational Statistics, Jencks and Owens will estimate the changes in recent decades in the distribution of income across families headed by parents with various levels of education. They will then examine whether these changes in the income distribution predict changes in educational outcomes for children of different socioeconomic backgrounds (as measured by test scores, high school graduation, and college enrollment), and at what stages in a child’s life income inequality has the biggest effects.


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