Racial Socioeconomic Inequality Predicts Growing Racial Academic Inequality

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Socioeconomic inequalities exacerbate academic inequalities, so when socioeconomic inequality is higher, academic achievement gaps also tend to grow.

For example, consider socioeconomic inequality for Black and White families in the same school district. In nearly all U.S. communities, White families are more affluent than Black families. In some places, such as Chicago (shown in the chart as ) and Dallas , these socioeconomic inequalities are high, while in others, such as Hawaii , they are low.

Among the 40 school districts with the highest student enrollment, there is a lot of variation in socioeconomic inequality. We measure socioeconomic inequality as the average difference in socioeconomic status (SES) between White and Black residents within that school district. In Hawaii , the socioeconomic gap between White and Black residents is only 0.5 SDs, which means White residents have a relatively small advantage in income, educational attainment, and employment when compared to Black residents. In Chicago , this gap is over 4 SDs, representing a vast gap in local socioeconomic opportunities.

These SES differences predict changes in children’s academic achievement disparities over time. In Dallas , where socioeconomic inequality is high, the academic achievement gap has increased by more than a grade-level in one decade. At this rate, the 2009 White-Black achievement gap will double by the year 2027. In Hawaii , on the other hand, where socioeconomic inequality is relatively low, the academic achievement gap has decreased by over one-third of a grade-level. Even at this promising rate, the gap in Hawaii would take until 2050 to close.

Learn more about these findings in our working paper “Uneven Progress: Recent Trends in Academic Performance Among U.S. School Districts”.

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