Panel Paper: Trends in School Readiness Gaps By Family Socioeconomic Status from 1998 to 2010

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Harding - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yi Wang, Columbia School of Social Work

Despite large amounts of research examining the influence of socioeconomic status (SES) on school readiness, relatively less is known about how SES gaps in school readiness have changed over time. In the recent decades, income inequality grew significantly, implying that SES gaps in school readiness might have widened. At the same time, the reduced gaps in home literacy environment and preschool enrollment between high- and low-SES children suggest that the gaps might have narrowed. The most recent research by Reardon and Portilla reveals that school readiness gaps between kindergarteners at the top and bottom 10th income percentile decline from 1998 to 2010. Until now, no research provides evidence about trends in SES gaps in school readiness using parental education to measure SES. Parental education captures more subtle home resources and parenting and has less measurement error than income. This paper complements existing literature by examining trends in school readiness gaps from 1998 to 2010 using parental education as the indicator of SES, and extends existing research by decomposing factors that account for the gaps in the two cohorts.

This study uses two nationally representative datasets – Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten cohort: 1998 (n= 16,300) and Kindergarten cohort 2010 (n= 14,300). High-, medium-, and low-SES are defined as parents’ highest education level is a college degree or above, less than a college degree but more than a high school diploma, and a high school diploma or less, respectively. Outcome variables are reading and math scores at kindergarten entry. This research uses ordinary least squares regressions to examine SES gaps in school readiness for 1998 and 2010 cohorts separately. Trends in the gaps are measured by the differences in SES gaps in school readiness between 1998 and 2010 cohorts. This paper adopts the Oaxaca decomposition method to investigate how much demographics, parenting, home environment, and child care enrollment account for the gaps in 1998 and 2010, and make a comparison between the two cohorts.

Results show that the trends of SES gaps in school readiness remained relatively stable from 1998 to 2010. However, findings indicate the factors that contributed to the gaps changed a lot. Inequality in economic resources accounted for more proportions of the reading and math gaps between low- and high-, and medium- and high-SES children in 2010 than 1998 (around 10 percentage points). While, disparities in parenting, home environment, and child care arrangements contributed to less proportions of the gaps in 2010 than 1998 (around 20 percentage points). Findings of this research imply that the reduced disparities in parenting, home environment, and child care enrollment play a significant role in offsetting the negative influence of raising income inequality on low-SES children’s school readiness. Due to the Great Recession, children sampled in 2010 had experienced considerable economic distress, especially for children from low-SES families. We might have expected narrowed school readiness gaps between low- and high-SES children if the inequality of financial resources had remained constant from 1998 to 2010.