Material Deprivation and Differences in Educational Achievement by Ethnicity

Pupils from most ethnic minority groups achieve better results than their white peers when we take into account social class differences between ethnic groups, but there are some exceptions.

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.

Socio-Economic Differences between Ethnic Groups

Most ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of material deprivation than the national average. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.

At the other end of the scale, the proportion of students from homes where the head of the household has never worked or is long term unemployed is 3% for White British but 7% for Indian, 8% for Black Caribbean, 23% for Pakistani, 26% for Black African and 40% for Bangladeshi households.

42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.

It follows that it might be social class differences between ethnic groups which explain differential educational achievement rather than cultural differences or in school factors such as teacher labelling.

Poor ethnic minority children generally do better than poor white children

However 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: cultural and in-school factors must play a role

Because there are differences in educational achievement by social class we also need to look at home based cultural factors and in-school factors when explaining differences in 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.






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