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Soc Sci Res. 2013 Jul;42(4):1018-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.02.005. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Accumulating advantages over time: Family experiences and social class inequality in academic achievement.

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American Institutes for Research, Washington, DC, United States. Electronic address:


Children from different family backgrounds enter schooling with different levels of academic skills, and those differences grow over time. What explains this growing inequality? While the social reproduction tradition has argued that family contexts are central to producing class gaps in academic achievement, recent quantitative studies have found that family experiences explain only a small portion of those inequalities. We propose that resolving this inconsistency requires developing a new measure of family experiences that captures the continuity of exposure over time and thus more closely reflects the logic of the social reproduction tradition. Results using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten cohort (ECLS-K) show that, consistent with previous quantitative research, time-specific measures of family experiences have little explanatory power. However, cumulative family experiences account for most of the growing inequality in academic achievement between children from different social class backgrounds over time. These findings support claims from the social reproduction tradition, and contribute more broadly to the understanding of how family experiences contribute to social inequality.

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