A Systematic Overview of Meta-Analyses on Socioeconomic Status, Cognitive Ability, and Achievement: The Need to Focus on Specific Pathways

Kevin M. Korous, José M. Causadias, Robert H. Bradley, Suniya Luthar, Roy Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Meta-analyses on the relation between socioeconomic status (SES) and performance on measures of cognitive ability and achievement arrive at the same general conclusion of a small to medium association. Advancements in methods make possible for meta-analyses to examine specific pathways linking SES to cognitive ability and achievement, as well as the moderators of these pathways. In this study, we conducted a systematic overview of meta-analyses on SES to address three research questions: 1) what is the direction and overall strength of association between SES and performance on measures of cognitive ability and achievement, and how precise are the effect sizes reported? 2) to what extent have meta-analyses examined moderation by components of SES, age, sex, and race/ethnicity? and 3) to what extent have meta-analyses examined mechanisms linking SES to cognitive ability and achievement? We conducted a systematic search using online archives (i.e., PsycINFO, ERIC, PubMed, Sociological Abstracts, and Web of Science), searching issues in Psychological Bulletin and Review of Educational Research, and examining references and citations. We identified 14 meta-analyses published between 1982 and 2019. These meta-analyses consistently reported positive associations of small to medium magnitude, indicating that SES is a meaningful contributor to the development of cognitive ability and achievement. Fewer meta-analyses reported evidence of moderation by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. None of the meta-analyses directly examined mechanisms, but provided evidence of possible mechanisms for future research. We suggest that meta-analyses can increase their contribution to future research, interventions, and policy by narrowing their focus on specific pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychological reports
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • achievement
  • cognitive ability
  • meta-analysis
  • socioeconomic status
  • systematic overview

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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