Education and Inequality – a key theme of the Reclaiming Education Conference 14th November

Richard Wilkinson, co-author of the Spirit Level will be developing the ideas in this blog at the Reclaiming Education Conference on 14th November in London. Book for this conference at

In terms of life expectancy, mental health, the educational performance of school children, child wellbeing, levels of violence, social mobility, drug abuse, teenage births and imprisonment, people in countries with bigger income differences between rich and poor do worse. Although greater inequality has its most severe effects on the least well off, even well educated people with good jobs do less well in countries with bigger income differences.

Children’s educational performance is strongly influenced by their home back ground. Compared to children in more equal countries, average standards of child wellbeing are lower across a wide range of measures among children in more unequal countries. Greater inequality adds to the stresses of family life and damages family relationships. As a result it affects children’s early cognitive development, even before they are old enough to start school.

When at school children in more unequal countries experience much more bullying, and data for the 50 states of the USA shows that children in states with bigger income differences between rich and poor are much more likely to drop out of high school. International assessments show that children in more unequal countries have lower overall scores in maths and literacy tests. They also show that the differences in levels of achievement between children from richer and poorer backgrounds, tends to be larger in more unequal societies.

Psychological experiments show that when children are made more aware of social status differences, the performance of children from poorer backgrounds drops substantially.

Lastly, social mobility is lower in more unequal countries: social status becomes more important and it becomes harder to move up the social ladder.

Research is gradually revealing the reasons for these patterns. As well as showing the basic data, this lecture will also suggest the social processes behind them.

For a full report on education and inequality, see: K Pickett, L Vanderbloemen, Mind the Gap: Tackling Social and Educational Inequality. York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust. 2015.
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