Material Deprivation and Differences in Educational Achievement by Ethnicity

Poor Asian and Black-African children do better that poor white children, but poor Pakistani and Black-Caribbean students do worse.

Last Updated on May 15, 2023 by Karl Thompson

It is possible that differences in educational achievement by ethnicity are caused by differences in the levels of material deprivation experienced by different ethnic groups.

However, while this theory is worth investigating it turns out that there isn’t much of a correlation between the two. For example, poor Chinese children do much better than poor White children at GCSE!

Material deprivation and educational achievement

Students from lower Socio-Economic Backgrounds are more likely to come from households with lower income, and thus more likely to suffer from material deprivation, lacking the resources which allow them to do well in school.

Material Deprivation can prevent a child gaining a good education because parents are less able to meet the Hidden costs of education such as finding money for school trips and home resources such as computers. Material Deprivation also means a family is more likely to live in a deprived area with worse schools. Lack of money impacts negatively on family dynamics, especially parental involvement in education, and have the effect of lowering educational aspirations.

Differences in material deprivation between Ethnic Groups

In terms of both household wealth and income, White and Indian households are the wealthiest, followed by Chinese Britons, with Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshis all having lower rates of wealth and income and thus higher rates of material deprivation.

Ethnic differences in household wealth

The approximate net median household wealth for different ethnic groups in 2016-2018 was:

  • White and Indian – £300 000
  • Pakistani households median wealth stands at nearer £250 000.
  • Black Caribbean – £80 000
  • Chinese – £70 000
  • Bangladeshi – £60 000
  • Black-African £40 000.

Inequalities by Ethnicity and Income

White and Indian households are four times as likely to be in the top 40% of income earners compared to Pakistani and Bangladeshi households…

  • White and Indian – 42% and 41%
  • Chinese 34%
  • Black – 20%
  • Bangladeshi – 10%
  • Pakistani – 10%

Does material deprivation explain differential educational achievement by ethnicity?

If we look back at the statistics on educational achievement by ethnicity we find that differences in wealth and income CANNOT explain differential educational achievement by ethnicity at GCSE:

  • Indian and White children have similar levels of wealth and income but Indian children beat White children at GCSE by 11%
  • Chinese children are poorer than both Indian and White children but Chinese kids get the best GCSE results of all.
  • Black African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani children are poorer than white children and yet get better exam results.
  • Black Caribbean children have relatively high household wealth, yet poor income and underachieve slightly compared to white children.

There is more of a correlation between material deprivation and achievement at further education level:

  • The higher rates of poverty among ethnic minorities might explain the higher take up rate of FE – this is a free opportunity still.
  • Differences in income may also explain why White, Indian and Chinese children are more likely to get three As at A-level: this could be because relatively higher income means they are better schools or able to afford higher tuition.
  • Conversely, lower incomes for Pakistani, Black and Bangladeshi students correlates with their being less likely to achieve three As.

Poor ethnic minority children generally do better than poor white children

Some recent analysis of the 2021 educational achievement statistics by Steve Strand shows that social class differences do not explain all of the variation in achievement by ethnic group.

Pupils from most ethnic minority groups achieve better results than their white peers when we take into account social class differences between ethnic groups, as the table below shows:

Of particular note are the following:

  • Indian and Other Asian (which will include Chinese) do exceptionally well when we factor in their class background.
  • Black African pupils do better than average, but Black Caribbean pupils do worse than average
  • Pakistani children do worse than average.

Conclusions: material deprivation doesn’t explain differences by ethnicity…

The above analysis shows that there is no correlation between educational achievement, ethnicity and material deprivation at GCSE, and so here we will need to examine home based cultural factors and in-school factors to explain these differences.

There is more of a correlation at Further and Higher Education, but even here the correlation isn’t perfect and so there is more going on that just wealth and income differences at work in explaining differential educational achievement by ethnicity.


This material is usually taught as part of the education module within A-level Sociology.


(1) GOV.UK (2021) Ethnic, socio-economic and sex inequalities in educational achievement at age 16, by Professor Steve Strand.

Ethnicity Facts and Figures (accessed May 2023)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from ReviseSociology

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading