Inequality ate my homework: A brief discussion on the effects of socio -economics on homework

This blog stems from a book I am writing on homework to be published by Routledge in 2021.

As a sociology teacher, I spend much of the Autumn Term discussing the impact of socio-economics on pupil attainment, particularly material and cultural deprivation, with students in Year 12. Here, it is important to see socio-economics as a complex mix of material and cultural factors as well as parents’ own level of education.

In terms of material factors, Tanner (2003) has studied the costs of schooling on pupils’ education, which impacts on homework. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to afford the equipment that might make learning at home easier or even possible. This could even include things like desks and space to learn (Hallam, 2004). Tanner’s findings are echoed by the 2012 PISA results, which found that socio-economically advantaged pupils spent more time doing homework than disadvantaged pupils. In OECD countries, a socio-economically advantaged pupil normally spends 1.6 more hours a week doing homework than a disadvantaged pupil; this equates to advantaged pupils doing an average of 5.7 hours of homework per week whereas disadvantaged pupils do 4.1 hours per week (OECD, 2014).

Some researchers have, therefore, seen this as impacting on achievement. For example, Dettmers, Trautwein and Lüdtke (2009) completed a multilevel analyses and found a positive association between school-average homework time and mathematics achievement in almost all countries studied, but they also found that the size of the association decreased considerably once socio-economic backgrounds were considered.

Interestingly, in another meta-analysis, Baş, Şentürk and Ciğerci (2017) found that the academic achievement of pupils was higher in mixed schools in terms of socio-economics than in schools where the majority were from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, they also found that the impact of socio-economics on homework and achievement was not significantly correlated overall. 

Cultural factors are also significant here. Feinstein, Budge and Vorhaus (2008) report on how parents’ own education affects pupils’ attitude to learning at home, which also impacts on their use of income for educational purposes away from school. In the USA, Eren and Henderson (2011) found that pupils with university educated parents were more likely to see homework’s benefits. More specifically, Kralovec and Buell (2000) argue that parents may struggle to support their children’s learning at home, which leads to pupils falling behind and can lead to higher drop-out rates in further and higher education. They go as far to say, ‘Homework appears to further disadvantage the already disadvantaged’ (ibid, p. 70).

Moreover, Sugarman (1970) has found the pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are often more interested in ‘immediate gratification’ as opposed to ‘deferred gratification’ and are less likely to spend time focusing on homework that will not have an immediate return; this is often learnt from parents’ behaviour.

In relation to the above, it could be argued that homework may also be impacted on by ‘cultural capital’, which Bourdieu says, ‘consists mainly of linguistic and cultural competence and that relationship of familiarity with culture which can only be produced by family upbringing when it transmits the dominant culture’ (1977, p. 494). Here, Sammons, Sylva, Melhuish et al. (2014; cited in Hallam & Rogers, 2014) suggest that pupils may benefit from academically enriching cultural and sporting activities as well as a conducive home learning environment. 

Snap impact verdict: socio-economics clearly impact on educational achievement in general and many sociologists and educationalists see disadvantaged pupils as being hindered by their material and cultural capital. However, there are a few studies suggesting that being disadvantaged can act as motivation to achieve in school and improve one’s life chances; this is certainly true of some ethnic groups, such as children of Chinese and Indian heritage (see the DfE’s own data to explore this).

Overall, the impact of low incomes and relative poverty on equipment and the home environment cannot be ignored here. Perhaps schools have a duty to provide essential equipment to pupils who cannot afford it, especially if any impact on achievement is to be seen, as well as offer additional support to disadvantaged pupils and parents where possible.


Bas, G., Senturk, C., & Ciğerci, F.M. (2017). Homework and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Issues in Educational Research, 27(1), 31-50.

Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology) (R. Nice, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dettmers, S., Trautwein, U., & Lüdtke, O. (2009). The relationship between homework time and achievement is not universal: Evidence from multilevel analyses in 40 Countries. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 20(4), 375–405.

Eren, O., & Henderson, D. J. (2011). Are we wasting our children’s time by giving them more homework? Economics of Education Review30(5), 950-961.

Feinstein, L., Budge, D., & Vorhaus, J. (2008). The social and personal benefits of Learning: a summary of key research findings. London: Institute of Education Press.

Hallam, S. (2004, February 9). ‘Pupils’ Perspectives on Homework. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Hallam, S. & Rogers, L. (2018). Homework: the evidence. London: UCL Institute of Education Press.

Kralovec, E., & Buell, J. (2000). The end of homework: How homework disrupts families, overburdens children, and limits learning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Kralovec, E., & Buell, J. (2001). End Homework Now. Educational Leadership, 58(7), 39-42.

OECD (2014). Does homework perpetuate inequities in education? PISA in Focus, No. 46, Paris: OECD Publishing.

Sammons, Pam & Sylva, Kathy & Melhuish, Edward & Siraj, Iram & Taggart, Brenda & Smees, Rebecca & Toth, Katalin. (2014). Influences on students’ social-behavioural development at age 16. Effective pre-school, primary & secondary education project (EPPSE). DfE Research Brief.

Sugarman, B. (1970) Sociology. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

Tanner, E. (2003). The costs of education: a local study. London: Child Poverty Action Group.

Featured image from Used under a Creative Commons License.

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