Self-perceptions as mechanisms of achievement inequality: evidence across 70 countries


Children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds tend to have more negative self-perceptions. More negative self-perceptions are often related to lower academic achievement. Linking these findings, we asked: Do children’s self-perceptions help explain socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement around the world? We addressed this question using data from the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, including n=520,729 records of 15-year-old students from 70 countries. We studied five self-perceptions (self-perceived competency, self-efficacy, growth mindset, sense of belonging, and fear of failure) and assessed academic achievement in terms of reading achievement. As predicted, across countries, children’s self-perceptions jointly and separately partially mediated the association between socioeconomic status and reading achievement, explaining additional 11% (ΔR2=0.105) of the variance in reading achievement. The positive mediation effect of self-perceived competency was more pronounced in countries with higher social mobility, indicating the importance of environments that ‘afford’ the use of beneficial self-perceptions. While the results tentatively suggest self-perceptions, in general, to be an important lever to address inequality, interventions targeting self-perceived competency might be particularly effective in counteracting educational inequalities in countries with higher social mobility.

In npj Science of Learning
Frank Reinhold
Frank Reinhold
Professor of Mathematics Education

I am currently working as a professor of mathematics education at University of Education Freiburg.