School Achievement and Social Class

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Are the rich children in school better? Rich families in today's society are sending their children to schools that offer teachers greater salaries. Is it that children are better in academia from this social stratum? Research has demonstrated a strong predictor of academic results in socioeconomic status. In addition, brain development is closely linked to family income. However, studies have shown that an alternative viewpoint is not so significant for the economy. The sections below discuss the question of class and achievement gap thoroughly. The following are described for the first time. Class
Social class refers to a system of stratification in society wherein people are grouped into classes. The people in each group or class would have similar characteristics regarding their economic situation (Browne 397). Their ownership of wealth also affects both their status and influence. There are at least three classes of contemporary society—the upper class, middle class, and lower class, although each class can be further segregated into sub-classes. A person’s economic status affects his access to basic needs such as food, water, and clothing. Family income determines a person’s access to other needs, such as education and leisure. Socioeconomic status has been considered a major factor in education. Studies have shown a wide achievement gap among different groups depending on their socioeconomic status.

Achievement gap

The achievement gap in education is the "disparity in academic performance between groups of students" (Editorial Projects). The comparison may be between ethnic groups and white students or among students from lower-income households and those from the higher-income families. Although there are other factors that contribute to the achievement gap, the student’s social class is a major one.

Factors that Contribute to School Achievement

Education is regarded as a means to move from one’s current social class to a higher stratum. Right now, there are government laws that mandate all children of school age to enroll and stay in school. There are still barriers to education even in societies that enact education for all. Most schoolchildren from low-income families who are in school may not perform as well as their counterparts from the higher income strata. The reasons for not doing so can be attributed to socio-economic factors.

A household’s socioeconomic status includes race, gender, age, education, and family income. A person’s education is closely related to the family income since even if basic education is free, the family still has to spend for school requirements such as supplies, transportation, food and other needs. Participation in school activities, submission of projects, attending events related to school, and others still require resources. In low-income household, there is a high competition on what items get funding. Thus, full participation in every school requirement entails the use of limited family resources. When the student completes high school, his or her entry to a tertiary education will be challenged by the availability of resources from the family as well.

A student’s performance in school is attributed to several factors. Among these are genetics, socioeconomic status, and environmental factors. Genetics provide the basic make-up of a student. A smart student will be able to cope with the challenges at school. However the further development of a students' capabilities can be affected by the situation at home. Between two students with the same intellectual capabilities, the one with more resources will have an advantage. He can focus entirely on class assignments, while his counterpart may still have to walk to school or work after school to acquire lunch money for the next day’s classes.

Social class

A person’s social class is a major determinant of school performance. Those from the lower classes face major challenges to survive. Some are homeless, no-income families. They may live in debt or are struggling to make ends meet daily. Often, because of economic reasons children help out to make a living for the family. Whatever resources gathered for the day are shared among family members. Some even barely make it to two meals a day. To be a student in situations such as this requires a strong character and a deep intent to attend school.

In comparison, a person from the upper class can focus entirely on the requirements of schooling. He has enough resources for food, clothing, shelter, supplies, and supplement materials. He can also access enhancement activities that will improve his understanding of the lessons. A tutor, trainings, and other supplemental materials can further improve his capabilities. It is also expected that students from the upper classes do not anymore face hunger and malnutrition. With their basic needs met, their brain can focus on learning new lessons.

Environmental factors also contribute a big part to the child’s capacity to perform well in school. A nurturing atmosphere as well as parental involvement in a child's study life reduces stress and motivates the child to do well in class. The absence of stress may also contribute to better brain development among children. For example, children can study better when their homes are conducive to such an activity. Students from lower classes may have difficulty in finding a quiet space at home when they share a small residence with siblings and relatives. In comparison, their counterparts from the upper classes have their own rooms, study area and space to improve their abilities and hone their talents.

Numerous studies have shown the effects of socioeconomic status on school performance. These studies use family income as the main variable to correlate class with school performance. One study suggests that poverty results in poor performance in school. The difficulties they experience would continue the longer they stay in such situation (Hair et al. 822). Since poverty deprives children with their needs, including food and education, they would then have limited opportunities to gain an income in the future.

Brain development

Socioeconomic status and brain development have been an interesting subject of study for many years. Researchers would like to see whether there was physical evidence that would prove income, poverty, or economic status has an effect on brain development. Usually, these studies run for several years, and researchers gather information periodically, like annual check-ups. The method used to assess changes in the brain's structure was magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The MRI images or scans of the brain were then assessed to see if there were changes at certain periods. Each brain part has the corresponding function. The amygdala and hippocampus regions are in charge of processing emotions and regulating stress. Poverty, according to Luby et al. (1135) poverty has deleterious effects on these regions as measured by the volume of gray and white matter. Such effect may be brought about by the stressful environment in a low-income household. The left hemisphere and the right hemisphere regions affect language, reading, spatial skills and executive functions (Noble et al. 1135).

The focus of previous studies was cortical volume. The MRI scans were studied to identify which child has higher cortical volume in certain regions. These were then compared with the other kids taking into consideration the children’s socioeconomic characteristics such as parent’s occupation and household income. There is a close association between socioeconomic status and brain development. The changes in the development of the brain also vary with the socioeconomic status of the child. Even as young as infancy, the differences are already manifested. Studying MRI images show that “infants from low-income families had lower volumes of gray matter” (Hanson et al.).

A healthy brain allows the individual to perform cognitive functions necessary for academic activities. A number of studies have made use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare the brain tissues among students from different socioeconomic strata. These studies look into areas of the brain that are associated with school readiness and assess which images belong to the children with the higher scores. From the MRI scans, researchers conclude that students from low-income families “displayed systematic structural differences in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and hippocampus” (Hair et al.). This study was on 389 children and adolescents aged 4 to 22 years old. Another study was among preschoolers aged 3-6 years old who were assessed every year for the next 5-10 years. The MRI images show the brain volumes in the children's white matter, gray matter, hippocampus, and amygdala. The analysis of the researchers supports the view that "poverty in early childhood materially impacts brain development at school age" (Luby et al. 1136).

A bigger study involving 1,099 participants also presented brain development scenarios.

They focused on a thickness of the cortices and surface area. They explained that at the age of 10, children who are more intelligent would have cortices that are thinner. The surface area at this age would be greater among the more intelligent kids. In this study, Noble et al. explain that “income relates most strongly to brain structure among the most disadvantaged children” (773). They do not suggest a causal link between family income and brain development. The researchers emphasize that these factors are closely associated. Their study showed that brain structure among children from low-income families manifests a lower surface area.

From these studies of the brain structure and considering the functions of these parts, it can be concluded that the socioeconomic status of students affects their performance in schools. Thus, achievement gap continues to widen because of the increasing income inequality in society. When the income of families at the lower classes remains low, it can be expected that students from the lower classes would not perform as well as their counterparts from the upper classes. Students from the lower classes experience more stress physically and emotionally which also affects their brain maturation. Since regions of the brain that control cognitive functions are affected, their performance of certain tasks in school likewise deteriorates.

Other Factors

The researches utilizing MRI images mostly were conducted among American participants. All these presented a relationship between socioeconomics factor (either family income or paternal education) and brain development. However, researchers do not make causal relationships because they are aware that there are more factors contributing to brain development or academic performance. Their conclusions are similar—socioeconomic factors are strong determinants of school performance. An opposing view of the effect of class on school performance is presented by researchers from Australia using their evaluation of Australian students. According to Kevin Donnelly from the Australian Catholic University, “social class affects school achievement less than you think.” He cites a study among Australian students entering the tertiary levels that show social class. According to such study, "sector gaps in students’ tertiary entrance performance can be only partially attributed to socioeconomic background” (Marks, Abstract). Prior achievement and other factors contributed more. However, it should be noted that this study looks into the performance of students who are taking entrance for tertiary educational institutions. Students from low-income families are not usually motivated to continue to go into universities because of the high cost of college education. The option of gaining employment and earning an income are chosen for economic reasons.


Social class is a strong determinant of a person's status in contemporary society. Class refers to the groupings of people with similar characteristics. These may be regarding occupation, family income, possession of wealth, education and other variables collectively referred to as socioeconomic characteristics. The socioeconomic characteristics, particularly family income, have a strong influence on a child's academic performance. In fact, there is a widening achievement gap, in today's schools between students belonging to ethnic and white communities or between students from the upper class and those from the lower class. Studies show that family income has an effect on the child’s performance in school. Family income is likewise associated with a child’s brain development. MRI images or brain scans show that poverty has an effect on the brain development of children from the lower classes.

A person’s social class determines his or her status in society including access to resources, such as education. The widening achievement gap is a manifestation of the increasing income inequality among the different social classes in the current society. In response to the question at the start "do rich kids perform better in school?," the answer is "Partly Yes." Those from the upper classes have more resources compared to students at the lower strata. They also have a more conducive environment for studies such as access to school materials, available supplies for projects, and enough space to study and relax. It is also expected that their developing brain is not subjected to environmental stress. They would have enough nutrition and nurture, both of which contribute to an overall supportive environment for study. Social class is indeed a major factor in a child’s academic achievement.

Works Cited

Browne, Ken. An Introduction to Sociology. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011.

Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. Issues A-Z: Achievement Gap. Education Week. 7 July 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from

Hanson, Jamie L., Nicole Hair, Dinggang G. Shen, Feng Shi, John H. Gilmore, Barbara L. Wolfe, & Seth D. Pollak. “Family Poverty Affects the Rate of Human Infant Brain Growth.”PLoS ONE 8(12): e80954. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080954

Luby, Joan, Andy Belden, Kelly Botteron, Natasha Marrus, Michael P. Harms, Casey Babb, Tomoyuki Nishino, & Deanna Barch. “The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development: The Mediating Effect of Caregiving and Stressful Life Events.” JAMA Pediatrics, 167 (12), 2013, pp. 1135-1142.

Marks, Gary."Accounting for school-sector differences in university entrance performance," Australian Journal of Education: Vol. 53 : (1), 2009. Available at:

Noble, Kimberly, Suzanne M. Houston, Natalie H. Brito, Hauke Bartsch, Eric Kan, Joshua M. Kuperman, Natacha Akshoomoff, David G. Amaral, Cinnamon S. Bloss, Ondrej Libiger, Nicholas J. Schork, Sarah S. Murray, B. J. Casey, Linda Chang, Thomas M. Ernst, Jean A. Frazier, Jeffrey R. Gruen, David N. Kennedy, Peter Van Zijl, Stewart Mostofsky, Walter E. Kaufmann, Tal Kenet, Anders M. Dale, Terry L. Jernigan & Elizabeth R. “Family Income, Parental Education and Brain Structure in Children and Adolescents. Nature Neuroscience, 18(15), 2015, pp. 773-778.

December 15, 2021

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