Working papers

Socioeconomic status shapes parental beliefs about child academic achievement: Novel evidence from India, Kenya, Ghana, and the USA

Parental beliefs about their child’s academic achievement may guide educational investment decisions and influence their child’s eventual outcomes. Whether parental beliefs systematically differ along socioeconomic lines, or whether socioeconomic status itself causally shapes such beliefs remains less well known. This research makes progress on this question by combining datasets from India, Kenya, Ghana, and the USA, each featuring three elements core to the analysis: detailed measures of household socioeconomic status, stated parental beliefs about child academic achievement, and measures of actual child performance. In a pattern common to all four contexts, socioeconomically advantaged parents are more likely to believe their children are above average academically, while socioeconomically disadvantaged parents are more likely to believe their children are below average. These patterns persist after accounting for actual performance, suggesting that disparities in beliefs outpace any disparities in performance along socioeconomic lines. Causal evidence from India and Kenya suggests that economic circumstances may fundamentally shape parental beliefs about child academic achievement. Parental beliefs respond negatively to negative shocks driven by adverse rainfall in India, and positively to receipt of a randomized early-life health intervention that leads to improved economic circumstances in Kenya. Finally, parents in the USA are more likely to believe male children are above average in math compared to equally-performing females, a pattern not observed in either Kenya or Ghana. To the extent that parental beliefs guide educational investment decisions, disparities in parental beliefs along socioeconomic lines or by child gender could contribute to perpetuating inequalities.

Other works in progress

"Complementarities in Human Capital Production: Causal Evidence on Intergenerational Impacts in Kenya" with Lia Fernald, Joan Hamory, Patricia Kariger, Edward Miguel, Eric Ochieng, and Michael Walker

"Preparing for an Aging Africa: An Agenda for Economic Research and Policy" with Edward Miguel and Michael Walker

"Relations among Family Socioeconomic Status, Parental Investments, and Child Cognitive and Socioemotional Development among Families in Kenya" with Ye Rang Park, Edward Miguel, and Michael Walker

"Effects of Expanded Payment Options on Utilities User Fee Payment Behavior in Ethiopia" with Tewodros Tesemma

"Male Employment Shocks and Female Labor Supply"  with Emily Breza, Supreet Kaur, and Yogita Shamdasani