Socioeconomic status shapes parental beliefs about child academic achievement: Novel evidence from India, Kenya, and the USA
Parental beliefs about child academic achievement guide educational investment decisions and influence 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, and the USA, each featuring three elements core to the analysis: detailed measures of household socioeconomic status, parental beliefs about child academic achievement, and measures of actual child performance. In a pattern common to all three 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 led 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. To the extent that parental beliefs guide educational investment decisions, disparities in parental beliefs along socioeconomic lines could contribute to perpetuating intergenerational inequality.
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