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The Importance of the Kid Next Door

Role of social class and neighbourhoods in educational achievement

A study by Finn Hedefalk and Martin Dribe from the Centre for Economic Demography and the Department of Economic History at Lund University looked at the association between neighbourhood conditions throughout childhood and educational attainment in adulthood.

Unlike existing research that has focused on present-day and segregated cities in the United States, Hedefalk and Dribe take a long-term perspective and examine the impact of one’s neighbourhood in a more homogenous city in Sweden.

The data used was longitudinal microdata of the Swedish town of Landskrona from the Scanian Economic Demographic Database (SEDD). Hedefalk and Dribe geocoded the residential histories of the full population for the period of 1939 to 1967. This means they were able to match individuals to their specific addresses and then link them to Swedish national register data, regardless of where they later resided in Sweden from 1968 to 2015, to track achieved education level of children that grew up in Landskrona by the age of 40. With the geocoded data at address-level, they were able to use more realistic methods of estimating long-term social influences from the nearest neighbors than previously used measures that have been dependent on administrative borders.

During the time period under question, Sweden expanded higher education making it possible for more children to achieve a higher education than their parents. The authors observed that all social classes benefited from this expansion, but there were still differences between the high class (mainly white-collar workers) and mid- and low classes (mainly blue-collar workers). On average, 25.3% from the high class, 10.3% from the mid and 7.7% from the low class obtained at least a 3-year university degree by the age of 40.

Regardless of one’s school district and class origin, the neighbourhood was still found to play an influential role, indicating the importance of closer residential neighbourhoods.

The social class of the nearest neighbours of the same age throughout childhood were important for educational achievements, regardless of class origin and the elementary school children might have attended.

Children that grew up in a high-class family with other high-class children of the same age as neighbours were consistently more likely to receive a university degree than other children. The influence of one’s neighbourhood conditions on educational outcomes differed by sex, age and the number of nearest neighbours. Girls were less impacted by their childhood neighbours, but between the ages of 11 and 17, they were more influenced by their own social class compared to boys. Looking specifically at 14-year-old girls, those with a high-class origin in high-class neighbourhoods were eight times more likely to obtain a university degree than children with a low-class origin in a low-class neighbourhood.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Emily Lines