In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Science and Education Research

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Relative Influence of Genetic and Environmental Factors
  • Parenting and Child Development
  • Health, Nutrition, and Student Achievement
  • Education and Intergenerational Mobility
  • The Labor Market and Education
  • Accountability and Testing
  • Political Socialization

Education Social Science and Education Research
Leila Morsy, Richard Rothstein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0040


This article reviews contributions of quantitative and qualitative social scientists and historians, as well as those of policy analysts in the fields of public health, housing, and urban development, to our understanding of education and education policy. In a few cases, the definition of social “science” has been unreasonably stretched by including entries by moral and political philosophers. The selections in this article represent influential social-science theories regarding education, or distinct points of view in ongoing debates in the sociology, economics, and politics of education. Often, history is written by journalists or others without formal training as historians. On the whole, this article excludes historical works produced by journalists or others without formal training in historiography, but there are exceptions where the work is unusually scholarly and/or influential. Arbitrarily, works of many scholars have not been included if they primarily work or have worked within the education policy world and at schools of education, and they typically do not bring the perspective of the formal social-science disciplines in the arts and sciences. These scholars may legitimately be considered social scientists, and the decision not to list their works cannot be justified except by the need to limit the size of this compendium, for it is impossible to select the 150 most important works from these many fields of social science and history. All experts will find fault with this or any list, reasonably believing that many works should have been included and that some were included without sufficient justification. Experts with such views are certainly correct. In many cases, a bibliographic citation has been provided for a scholar whose body of work contains many similar contributions. The selection of any single citation to represent such a body of work is fairly arbitrary. Alternative citations from the same author or authors would be equally plausible. In those cases where multiple citations for a single author are provided, the several works seem to have had independent influence. Many “classic” works have been included, even if they are no longer influential or if their analyses have been superseded. The justification for including such classics is that they spurred a debate, and literate contemporary participants in this debate will find frequent references to these original contributions. As well, this article necessarily includes contemporary contributions whose lasting worth has yet to be determined.

General Overviews

Several edited works of collected essays by social scientists are important resources for the study of education and child development. Three collections published in the late 1990s—Bronfenbrenner, et al. 1996; Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997; and Hauser, et al. 1997—reflect the increasing interest of social scientists with the socioeconomic factors that influence educational outcomes and the paths of child and youth development. Although the specific data in these collections are now outdated, the themes explored in these volumes remain relevant. A subsequent volume, Neckerman 2004, includes more recent data and insightful interpretive essays. Morsy and Rothstein 2015 provides a detailed review of recent literature on five social predictors of educational outcomes across parenting, family structure, employment, and health. An edited volume, Duncan and Murnane 2011 is the most recent comprehensive study of the effects of socioeconomic factors on children’s school achievement. McCartney, et al. 2014 examines practical and policy solutions to narrow the achievement gap across a range of socioeconomic factors. A second growing concern by social scientists in this period is whether schooling affects later economic success and the extent to which the American social structure is fluid (whether there is great upward mobility). The volume Arrow, et al. 2000 brings together a group of distinguished social scientists to explore this issue.

  • Arrow, Kenneth, Samuel Bowles, and Steven Durlauf, eds. 2000. Meritocracy and economic inequality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    The theme of this collection by Nobel Prize winner in economics Kenneth Arrow, and an unusually distinguished group of colleagues, is that variation in intelligence has relatively little to do with socioeconomic inequality. When schooling improves occupational success, it does so not by improving cognitive ability but by improving noncognitive skills.

  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie, Peter McClelland, Elaine Wethington, Phyllis Moen, and Stephen J. Ceci, eds. 1996. The state of Americans: This generation and the next. New York: Free Press.

    This is a dated but short and easily accessible compendium, with accompanying interpretation; includes data from the early 1990s on demographic trends, crime, family structure, poverty, and economic forces affecting youth development.

  • Duncan, Greg J., and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, eds. 1997. Consequences of growing up poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    In eighteen chapters, a distinguished group of sociologists, economists, and demographers survey the impact of poverty on educational outcomes, health, adolescent development, children’s behavior, parenting practices, and fertility. Chapters also assess the intergenerational transmission of poverty and the relative importance of poverty and other family characteristics in predicting children’s future success or lack of it.

  • Duncan, G. J., and R. J. Murnane, eds. 2011. Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    A follow up to Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997, this ambitious book analyses the socioeconomic factors that contribute to children’s academic achievement. Distinguished contributors across the social sciences examine factors related to family, labor market, child development and neuroscience, schools, and neighborhoods.

  • Hauser, Robert M., Brett V. Brown, and William R. Prosser, eds. 1997. Indicators of children’s well-being. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Chapters comprise a comprehensive (as of the date of publication) survey of data sources on numerous aspects of education and child development, including health, education, economic security, social development, and behavior, as well as demographic, family, and neighborhood characteristics. Chapters also discuss the state of federal data collection, and recommendations for improvements, many of which remain necessary today.

  • McCartney, Kathleen, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, and Laurie B. Forcier. 2014. Improving the odds for America’s children: Future directions in policy and practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

    Suggests policy solutions in health, early childhood care, school reform, juvenile justice, and childhood poverty to narrow the achievement gap between children from a low socioeconomic background and middle-class children.

  • Morsy, Leila, and Richard Rothstein. 2015. Five social disadvantages that depress student performance: Why schools alone can’t close achievement gaps. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

    This report describes how social class characteristics plausibly depress achievement and suggests policies to address them. It focuses on five characteristics: parenting practices that impede children’s intellectual and behavioral development, single parenthood, parents’ irregular work schedules, inadequate access to primary and preventive health care, and exposure to and absorption of lead in the blood.

  • Neckerman, Kathryn, ed. 2004. Social inequality. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Essays in this volume are of uniformly high quality and authored by the leading social scientists of the time. The essays are organized into sections: “Family and Neighborhood,” “Investments in Children,” “Inequality in School and Work,” “Inequality in Health,” “Inequality in Political Participation,” “Inequality and Public Policy,” “Inequality in Wealth,” and “Methods and Concepts.”

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