Working Paper 2016-01

Does School Poverty Mediate the Effects of Neighborhood Context on Academic Achievement during Childhood?

Geoff T. Wodtke, University of Toronto

Matthew Parbst, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-01

July 2016

Keywords: neighbourhoods, schools, academic achievement, poverty, mediation, childhood

Full Article


Theory suggests that the school environment is an important pathway through which the effects of neighborhood poverty on educational outcomes are transmitted, especially earlier in the life course when young children are thought to be most sensitive to neighborhood institutional resources. Using data from the PSID, counterfactual methods, and a value-added estimation strategy, we investigate whether primary school poverty mediates the effects of neighborhood context on academic achievement during childhood. Contrary to expectations, results indicate that school poverty is not a significant mediator of neighborhood effects during this developmental period. Although moving from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty neighborhood during childhood is estimated to substantially reduce subsequent exposure to school poverty and improve academic achievement, school poverty does not play an important mediating role because even the large differences in school composition linked to differences in neighborhood context have no appreciable effect on achievement. A battery of formal sensitivity analyses suggests that these results are highly robust to the presence of unobserved confounding, to the use of alternative model specifications, and to the use of alternative measures of school context.

University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-01