Inequalities reduce overall learning and widen learning gaps: Inequality mechanisms and mitigation strategies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapters


Country inequality yields greater inequality across families, across schools, and within schools, which widens the achievement gap between rich and poor and reduces overall student learning. Market economies increase individual effort, productivity, and unequal incomes. Governments can exacerbate inequalities through regressive taxes or favorable policies for special interests. Furthermore, weak legal systems that do not redress wrongs harm poor people disproportionately. Meanwhile, hierarchical cultures expect individuals to obey authority, encouraging deference to higher status people and undervaluing lower status people (status effects).At the local level, privileged parents often use their superior resources to give their children more educational resources (family inequality), sending them to schools with more resources and richer schoolmates (school inequality and schoolmate inequality). Within a school, staff can give richer students more resources, assign them to higher ability classes (tracking), or support their status effects in steep status hierarchies. Inequality can widen the achievement gap through disadvantaged students' fewer learning opportunities and worse discipline. Meanwhile, six inequality mechanisms reduce both privileged and disadvantaged students' learning. First, richer parents benefit less than poorer parents from public resources and advocate less public education spending. Second, teachers and students in less equal societies view one another as less similar, feel less solidarity, and share fewer educational resources. Third, less solidarity reduces trust and fosters corruption, which siphons off educational resources. Fourth, less equal countries have higher crime rates, more conflict, and worse student discipline. Fifth, steep status hierarchies distort perceptions of one another's competencies and needs. Lastly, the effects of diminishing marginal returns are larger in less equal countries. National and school strategies can mitigate these harmful effects. Political coalitions can support welfare, progressive taxes, transparency, minimum standards, or mixing students. School leaders can allocate school resources equally, diversify teaching duties, eliminate tracking, support a caring school community, express clear goals and standards, align school goals and incentives, and enhance transparency of information and decision-making. Copyright © 2009 Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIncome distribution: Inequalities, impacts and incentives
EditorsIrving H. Wadell
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc
ISBN (Print)9781606922026
Publication statusPublished - 2009


Chiu, M. M. (2009). Income distribution: Inequalities reduce overall learning and widen learning gaps: Inequality mechanisms and mitigation strategies. In I. H. Wadell (Ed.), Income distribution: Inequalities, impacts and incentives (pp. 79-98). New York: Nova Science Publishers.


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