It All Starts with Beliefs: Addressing the Roots of Educational Inequities by Changing Parental Beliefs
AbstractRising educational and income inequalities have been documented in nearly every corner of the earth, with associated disparities in parental investment in children. A key to understanding the data patterns is to document the sources underlying the observed inequalities.
We begin by showing that across socioeconomic backgrounds, there are dramatic differences in parental beliefs about whether their investments impact their child’s development. Furthermore, we find that those beliefs are critically linked to investment and later child outcomes. We then use two field experiments to explore the mutability of such beliefs. In both cases, we find that parental beliefs are malleable. Further, in our intense program, which combines home visits and feedback, the augmented beliefs lead to both enriched parent-child interactions and improved child outcomes. By contrast, our "light-touch" program based solely on informational nudges changes beliefs but fails to induce parent investment changes.
Together, these results suggest that changing parental beliefs can be an important pathway to reducing socioeconomic gaps in children’s skills, but that the malleability of beliefs, by itself, is not enough.