Peer influence or discrimination? Understanding the mechanisms behind ethnic differences in school achievement.

An ancestry-segregated school class friendship network.
An ancestry-segregated school class friendship network (source: Andrea Knecht's data). Legend: shape = gender, color = parental country of birth (white = Netherlands, black = Turkey, grey = Morocco). Steglich, Christian, and Andrea Knecht. "Studious by association? Effects of teacher’s attunement to students’ peer relations." Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft 5.17 (2014): 153-170.

This project explores the achievement gaps in schools among students from different ethnic backgrounds. By analysing data from European youth and Swedish registers, we aim to increase awareness of bias in the education system.

In many countries, a considerable ethnic gap is observed in students’ school achievement. Children of certain immigrant backgrounds lag behind with regard to their school grades, even after controlling for their socio-economic status and language skills.

In this project, we explore various mechanisms that might explain differences between school performance of students of different ethnic origin.

In the first work package, using regression models, we investigate whether children of certain immigrant groups are discriminated and systematically graded down in teachers’ evaluations.

In the second work package, we use statistical models for social networks to find out whether mechanisms such as selection of homophilous friendship, social influence, or potential peer sanctions against high-achieving students contribute to ethnic differences in school performance. In the third work package, we use empirically calibrated agent-based simulations to examine how discrimination might contribute to the emergence of “oppositional culture” among certain ethnic groups. We analyze longitudinal data collected among adolescents in four European countries including Sweden (CILS4EU) as well as Swedish register data.

The findings of the project can raise teachers’ awareness of biases in grading practices and shed light on the potential unintended consequences of biased grading. Furthermore, the findings can inform educational policy to reduce ethnic inequalities in students’ school performance.

Researchers in the project

Facts about the project

Project time

Project start: 2024-01-01
Project end: 2026-12-31 

Funded by: Swedish Research Council

Call name: Grants for research on Racism and discrimination, or the Holocaust, the Holocaust victims and antisemitism 2023 (Humanities and Social Sciences)

Type of grant: Research Project Grant

Focus: Racism and discrimination