Penn Education and Inequality Working Papers

The Penn Education and Inequality Working Papers Series is intended to allow workshop participants and alumni to share their research to a broad audience. Current and former workshop participants may submit a paper or preprint for consideration by sending it to: Please include the following information along with your paper: abstract, keywords, affiliations and a URL (if available) for all authors. Current students should additionally provide an email indicating support/approval of their submission from a faculty advisor. Publishing your preprint or working paper here in the ScholarlyCommons@Penn does not preclude publication elsewhere, and your paper can be edited to include updates or link out to other published versions as desired.



Search results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 13
  • Publication
    Estimating the Effects of Educational System Consolidation: The Case of China’s Rural School Closure Initiative
    (2021-10-01) Hannum, Emily; Liu, Xiaoying; Wang, Fan
    Global trends of fertility decline, population aging, and rural outmigration are creating pressures to consolidate school systems, with the rationale that economies of scale will enable higher quality education to be delivered in an efficient manner, despite longer travel distances for students. Yet, few studies have considered the implications of system consolidation for educational access and inequality, outside of the context of developed countries. We estimate the impact of educational infrastructure consolidation on educational attainment using the case of China’s rural primary school closure policies in the early 2000s. We use data from a large household survey covering 728 villages in 7 provinces, and exploit variation in villages’ year of school closure and children’s ages at closure to identify the causal impact of school closure. For girls exposed to closure during their primary school ages, we find an average decrease of 0.60 years of schooling by 2011, when children’s mean age was 17 years old. Negative effects strengthen with time since closure. For boys, there is no corresponding significant effect. Different effects by gender may be related to greater sensitivity of girls’ enrollment to distance and greater responsiveness of boys’ enrollment to quality.
  • Publication
    Generation-Blindness and the COVID-19 Websites of Highly Selective Universities
    (2021-03-02) Wright, Marcus T.
    This study analyzes how highly selective universities used their COVID-19 websites to publicly address first-generation students and the challenges these students faced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Specifically, the study investigates whether universities were generation-blind in their responses. The universities’ responses are defined as generation-blind if their COVID-19 websites did not a) reference or acknowledge generational identity; and/or did not b) address the issues that first-generation students faced at the onset of the pandemic and transition to remote learning. Findings show that highly selective universities almost never mentioned the term “first-generation students” on these websites and rarely addressed several critical issues that concerned first-generation students. These issues include: the challenge of navigating the complexities of the first-generation identity during the pandemic; the struggles that family members of these students faced (i.e. job loss); the students’ imperative to support their families (i.e. helping to watch younger siblings); and the difficulties students faced by having to use their homes as learning environments.
  • Publication
    A Tangled Web: The Reciprocal Relationship between Depression and Educational Outcomes in China
    (2019-09-05) Shen, Wensong
    Research on depression and education usually focuses on a unidirectional relationship. This paper proposes a reciprocal relationship, simultaneously estimating the effects of depression on education and of education on depression. China, which has the world’s largest education system, is used as a case study. This paper applies structural equation modeling to three datasets: the China Family Panel Studies, the China Education Panel Survey, and the Gansu Survey of Children and Families. Analyses reveal a reciprocal and negative relationship between depression and educational outcomes. Specifically, early depression reduces later educational achievement, and higher educational achievement also lowers the level of subsequent depression by resulting in less peers’ unfriendliness, less pressure from parents’ expectations, and less teachers’ criticism. More time spent on studies is not associated with higher educational achievement but significantly increases the level of depression. Children from lower SES families bear more pressure and spend more time on studies, which does not correspond to higher educational achievement but rather to higher levels of depression. In the long term, prior depression lowers educational attainment and, after controlling for prior depression, lower educational attainment is also associated with higher levels of subsequent depression. This paper shows that the lower achievers, not the high achievers, bear the major psychological burden of the education system’s quest to produce high achievement. This situation reinforces these students’ educational disadvantage.
  • Publication
    “Not Nearly as Bad”: Social Comparisons and the Debt Experience
    (2022-09-23) Bryer, Ellen
    Despite the growing awareness of the role that families play in the experience of student borrowing, debt is still understood as a private experience. As student debt becomes more widespread, individuals are increasingly likely to know others with student loans, yet questions remain about how others—friends, acquaintances, and colleagues—may shape the way student borrowers make sense of their debt. This study draws on interviews with recent master’s degree recipients to examine how young adults understand their educational debt in relation to others. The author finds that borrowers are enmeshed in “debt dense” social networks that both normalize debt and facilitate evaluative social comparisons against others that accentuate borrowers’ own efforts and responsibility. These findings demonstrate a role for occupational and educational social networks in shaping borrowers’ experience of indebtedness but also suggest limits to framing student debt as a collective problem.
  • Publication
    Do Family Privileges Bring Gender Equality? Instrumentalism and (De)Stereotyping of STEM Career Aspiration Among Chinese Adolescents
    (2019-08-18) Liu, Ran
    When studying the persistent underrepresentation of women in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) fields across different countries, some evidence shows a paradox of affluence: gender differences in STEM aspirations and outcomes are found to be more pronounced in more developed, post-industrial countries and among students from more affluent families. The argument of “indulging gendered selves” provides an explanation: students in more affluent settings are less compelled to pursue lucrative STEM careers and more encouraged to indulge gendered passions as a form of self-expression. Extending this argument, this paper uses nationally representative data from China to examine the effect of family privileges on adolescents’ STEM aspirations. Two distinct mechanisms are identified: instrumentalism, which considers the instrumental calculation of material security and economic returns in developing career aspirations, and (de)stereotyping, which considers whether family privileges cultivate or alleviate gender stereotypes. Findings show that less privileged girls such as ethnic minorities and those having rural hukou tend to have higher instrumental motivation to learn math, indicating an instrumentalism mechanism; on the other hand, girls with privileges such as higher parental education and more books at home enjoy more gender-egalitarian values, indicating a de-stereotyping mechanism. Moreover, Internet access at home as a privilege can foster gender stereotypes and decrease students’ motivation to learn math, and the latter association is stronger for girls than boys. Results suggest the importance of distinguishing the instrumentalism and (de)stereotyping mechanisms and the need for educational programs to refute gender stereotypes.
  • Publication
    Childhood Inequality in China
    (2018-07-01) Young, Natalie A. E.; Hannum, Emily
    In recent decades, China has transformed from a relatively egalitarian society to a highly unequal one. What are the implications of high levels of inequality for the lives of children? Drawing on two newly available, nationally representative datasets, the China Family Panel Studies and the China Education Panel Survey, we develop a comprehensive portrait of childhood inequality in post-reform China. Analyses reveal stark disparities between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds in family environments and in welfare outcomes, including physical health, psychosocial health, and educational performance. We argue that childhood inequality in China is driven not only by the deprivations of poverty, but also by the advantages of affluence, as high socioeconomic status children diverge from their middle and low socioeconomic status counterparts on various family environment and child welfare measures.
  • Publication
    Fewer, Better Pathways For All? Intersectional Impacts of Rural School Consolidation in China’s Minority Regions
    (2022-03-01) Hannum, Emily; Wang, Fan
    Primary school consolidation—-the closure of small community schools or their mergers into larger, better-resourced schools—-is emerging as a significant policy response to changing demographics in middle income countries with large rural populations. In China, large-scale consolidation took place in the early 21st century. Because officially-recognized minority populations disproportionately reside in rural and remote areas, minority students were among those at elevated risk of experiencing school consolidation. We analyze heterogeneous effects of consolidation on educational attainment and reported national language ability in China by exploiting variations in closure timing across villages and cohorts captured in a 2011 survey of provinces and autonomous regions with substantial minority populations. We consider heterogeneous treatment effects across groups defined at the intersections of minority status, gender, and community ethnic composition and socioeconomic status. Compared to villages with schools, villages whose schools had closed reported that the schools students now attended were better resourced, less likely to offer minority language of instruction, more likely to have Han teachers, farther away, and more likely to require boarding. Much more than Han youth, ethnic minority youth were negatively affected by closure, in terms of its impact on both educational attainment and written Mandarin facility. However, for both outcomes, significant penalties accruing to minority youth occurred only in the poorest villages. Penalties were generally heavier for girls, but in the most ethnically segregated minority villages, boys from minority families were highly vulnerable to closure effects on educational attainment and written Mandarin facility. Results show that intersections of minority status, gender, and community characteristics can delineate significant heterogeneities in policy impacts.
  • Publication
    Departing from the Beaten Path: International Schools in China as Response to Discrimination and Academic Failure in the Chinese Educational System
    (2018-03-14) Young, Natalie A. E.
    International schools are commonly depicted in the academic literature and popular press as offering elite educational credentials to an elite, oftentimes international, student body. In this paper, I draw on a case study of a Canadian international school to argue that a new form of international school is emerging in China – one that offers a haven for domestic students from certain competitive and discriminatory features of the Chinese educational system. Fieldwork was conducted at a Canadian curriculum high school for Chinese citizens in Beijing. Most students at the school were internal migrants or children of China’s ‘new rich’ entrepreneurial class; that is, their families had economic resources but occupied precarious social positions in contemporary Chinese society. Analyses reveal that the international school offers a pathway to obtain baseline academic credentials in the absence of other opportunities for progress in the Chinese educational system. Together with evidence of dramatic growth in international schools and tracks in China, this case study suggests the emergence of a new type of international education program that departs from a picture of international education as ‘elite’ in terms of student body, academic environment, and expected educational trajectories of graduates. The paper also develops our understanding of class and educational strategies in contemporary China.
  • Publication
    Differences at the Extremes? Gender, National Contexts, and Math Performance in Latin America
    (2019-08-16) Liu, Ran; Alvarado-Urbina, Andrea
    Studies of gender disparities in STEM performance have generally focused on average differences. However, the extremes could also be important because disparities at the top may shape stratification in access to STEM careers, while disparities at the bottom can shape stratification in dropout. This paper investigates determinants of gender disparities in math across the performance distribution in Latin American countries, where there is a persistent boys’ advantage in STEM performance. Findings reveal disparate national patterns in gender gaps across the performance distribution. Further, while certain national characteristics are linked to gender gaps at the low- and middle-ranges of the performance distribution, female representation in education is the only characteristic associated with a reduced gender gap at the top level.
  • Publication
    Effect Pathways of Informal Family Separation on Children’s Outcomes: Paternal Labor Migration and Long-term Educational Attainment of Left-Behind Children in Rural China
    (2021-02-01) Shen, Wensong; Hu, Li-Chung
    Informal family separation due to parental labor migration is an increasingly common experience in the lives of children in many countries. This paper proposes a framework and method for analyzing “effect pathways” by which parental labor migration might affect children’s outcomes. The framework incorporates home-environment and child-development mechanisms and is adapted from migration, sociology of education and child development literatures. We test these pathways using data on father absence and long-term educational outcomes for girls and boys in China. We apply structural equation models with inverse probability of treatment weighting to data from a 15-year longitudinal survey of 2,000 children. Significantly, fathers’ migration has distinct implications for different effect pathways. It is associated most significantly with reduced human capital at home, which has the largest detrimental effect on children’s educational attainment, among those studied. At the same time, father absence is associated with better family economic capital, which partially buffers the negative implications of father absence. Overall, father absence corresponds to a reduction of 0.342 years on average in children’s educational attainment, but the reduction is larger for boys than for girls. For boys and girls, the reduced availability of literate adults in the household linked to father absence is an important effect pathway. For girls, this detrimental effect is partially offset by a positive income effect, but for boys, the offset effect is trivial.