Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 4, Issue 3–4, pp 235–258

Social Status and the Academic Achievement Gap: A Social Dominance Perspective



In this paper we sketch several mechanisms by which low social status is transformed into low academic performance. Using the perspective of social dominance theory, we review three processes by which this transformation takes place. These processes include: (a) the effects of lower economic, cultural, and social capital; (b) the effects of personal and institutional discrimination; and (c) reactions to low social status by members of low status groups. It is argued that members of low status groups engage in various protective mechanisms in response to their low social status. Although these mechanisms have the benefit of protecting self-esteem, this benefit is purchased at a potential cost. This cost includes reduced motivation to succeed which results in lower academic achievement and subsequent reinforcement of the status hierarchy. We argue that future research needs to place substantially more effort into precisely understanding the numerous, and often subtle, mediating mechanisms transforming low social status into low academic achievement.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leiden UniversityNetherlands
  2. 2.Departments of Psychology and Education, Faculteit Sociale WetenschappenLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.University of CaliforniaLos Angeles

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