Income inequality could reduce the math skills of American children


The United States has the highest income gap in the developed world, and it affects how children do in school, new research shows.

A new study reports that the scores of 10-year-olds on standardized math tests were lower on average between 1992 and 2019 in states with the highest levels of income inequality – a measure of the unequal distribution of income across the country. a population.

And the struggles aren’t limited to low-income children, the study author said.

“For math, income inequality was associated with lower scores for poor and non-poor students,” said Joseph Workman, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Workman said tackling social inequalities may be a more effective way to improve educational outcomes than reforming schools or changing curricula.

The study compared the math and reading scores of fourth-graders from 1992 to 2019 with income data from the 50 states.

He used data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures student achievement nationwide using a sample of young people from each state. This is commonly referred to as the nation’s newsletter.

Workman’s study found that the states with the largest increases in income inequality also had the smallest increase in math scores, an average of 17.5 points. That compares to 24.3 points in states where the gap has not widened as quickly.

The gap was associated with lower scores for both poor and better-off students, according to the results.

But while the math gaps were large, reading scores were unrelated to income inequality overall, according to the report published Tuesday in Educational Review.

“For reading, income inequality has benefited non-poor students and hurt poor students,” Workman said. “So to read the pros and cons cancel each other out at any association on the whole.”

Preliminary data suggests that these same patterns also apply to students of other ages.

Income inequality has been attributed to a range of concerns – from mental health issues to higher divorce rates, substance abuse and child abuse. This can affect a child’s development, suggest the researchers.

The income gap can also lead to a high concentration of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in some schools, making it more difficult for them to meet the needs of each child, the study suggests.

The income gap in the United States is U-shaped. Levels were high from the 1910s to the 1930s, fell from the 1940s to the 1970s, and then rose again.

Workman said his findings have important implications for policymakers.

“Evaluations of the No Child Left Behind Act, which attempted to increase outcomes and reduce disparities by reforming schools, provided little evidence of the policy’s effectiveness in achieving its goals,” he said. Workman said in a press release.

“An effective strategy to increase results may be to reduce income inequality. Policies such as progressive tax rates, wealth tax, inheritance tax and annual wealth tax can effectively reduce inequalities, ”Workman said.

He suggested that higher tax revenues could be directed to programs that support child development, such as universal preschool or summer learning programs.

More information

The Pew Research Center has information on income inequality in the United States.

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