Early Ethnic Inequality: The Influence of Social Background and Parental Involvement on Preschool Children’s Cognitive Ability in Germany

Abstract

International research on educational inequality consistently reports the existence of ethnic differences in school achievement. The paper explores as a prior stage early cognitive differences between 3- to 4-year-old natives and immigrants in Germany and tests whether ethnic differences in cognitive outcomes can be essentially explained by the parents’ social background and the home environment of the children. It is assumed that children’s later educational success depends on their abilities at preschool age. The acquisition of these abilities is determined particularly by the family, the children’s home environment and through institutional care. The data of a German project “Preschool education and educational careers among migrant children” reveal the existence of inequality in cognitive scores between natives and Turkish children. These differences cannot be explained by controlling for the social background of the families, nor by the home environment. A main result of the analyses shows that both factors are important.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Genetic inheritance may explain individual differences but has no necessary implications for the causes of differences in averages between groups. This paper will not partake in the discussion about the influence of nurture and nature on children’s outcomes. Specific genetic hypotheses cannot be proven with this paper, so the later analysis will control for parental variables that might also control for their genetic inheritance (also see Collins et al. 2000). For institutional explanations, I assume that there might be at least one year of attendance at any type of institution; however, this is not the case in very early stages of the educational career.

  2. 2.

    I will control for this by estimating OLS-regressions with robust standard errors.

  3. 3.

    128 Families refused to answer the question, therefore the following analysis controls for these missing variables using a missing dummy variable.

  4. 4.

    Because there are 67 single parents within the data it is useful to consider only the person who is mainly responsible for the child. Further analysis shows that controlling for single parenthood does not change any result presented here.

  5. 5.

    These questions were intentionally not standardized, because the influences at home should be exaggerated. The effect of whether a specific place has ever been visited should not be that strong.

  6. 6.

    Because the data is cross-sectional I am aware of the problem that the reported effects are not causal. While describing the results I will sometimes ignore this for reasons of verbal simplicity.

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Acknowledgments

This research and study is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). I also would like to thank Birgit Becker and Jan O. Jonsson for very helpful comments and Betty Haire Weyerer for here English corrections.

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Biedinger, N. Early Ethnic Inequality: The Influence of Social Background and Parental Involvement on Preschool Children’s Cognitive Ability in Germany. Child Ind Res 3, 11–28 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-009-9054-6

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Keywords

  • Home environment
  • Involvement
  • Cognitive outcomes
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Education
  • Ethnic inequality