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Hofer, Sarah I.; Heine, Jörg-Henrik; Besharati, Sahba; Yip, Jason C.; Reinhold, Frank; Brummelman, Eddie (2024): Self-perceptions as mechanisms of achievement inequality: evidence across 70 countries. npj Science of Learning, 9 (1). ISSN 2056-7936

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Children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds tend to have more negative self-perceptions. More negative self-perceptions are often related to lower academic achievement. Linking these findings, we asked: Do children’s self-perceptions help explain socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement around the world? We addressed this question using data from the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, including n = 520,729 records of 15-year-old students from 70 countries. We studied five self-perceptions (self-perceived competency, self-efficacy, growth mindset, sense of belonging, and fear of failure) and assessed academic achievement in terms of reading achievement. As predicted, across countries, children’s self-perceptions jointly and separately partially mediated the association between socioeconomic status and reading achievement, explaining additional 11% (ΔR2 = 0.105) of the variance in reading achievement. The positive mediation effect of self-perceived competency was more pronounced in countries with higher social mobility, indicating the importance of environments that “afford” the use of beneficial self-perceptions. While the results tentatively suggest self-perceptions, in general, to be an important lever to address inequality, interventions targeting self-perceived competency might be particularly effective in counteracting educational inequalities in countries with higher social mobility.

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