Social Disadvantages That Depress Student Performance and How to Get Rid of Them

For students, there are a variety of different factors which can affect their cognitive and behavioral performances in school. Despite years of advocating that the problem lay within schools themselves, studies are beginning to show that the reality of the matter is far more complicated. A number of different factors and characteristics, including social and economic realities, can play a part in depressing student performance.

History has shown that time and time again, efforts solely dedicated to making schools better have come up short. In order to improve performance and help students, the social disadvantages that affect students must be examined and addressed.

How Social Disadvantages Affect Students  

For some students, a variety of socioeconomic disadvantages can play a role in affecting their overall performance in school. As opposed to focusing solely on what happens to children in schools, educators and parents need to closely examine where a student is coming from. Taking a look at a student’s history is essential in order to reveal the factors which may constitute social disadvantages for them.

These social disadvantages can have such a profound effect in students that their overall performance in school is adversely affected. Things such as coming from a low income background, having parents who are unemployed, malnutrition, housing instability, and health problems can severely disadvantage a student. So too can coming from a segregated, unstable, or dangerous neighborhood.

What constitutes a social disadvantage will vary from student to student. What is certain is that the precise social disadvantages a particular student is struggling with have played a role in shaping their cognitive and behavioral development.

The following social disadvantages are used to illustrate how a student’s performance can be affected. That’s not to say that this set of social disadvantages is the most serious or most important. They do however, have serious effects on students.


The specific parenting practices that a family uses to bring up their children have huge ramifications on how a child will develop, both cognitively and behaviorally. Studies indicate that families that come from a lower social class are typically more likely to produce socially disadvantaged students in the classroom.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Less engagement – Parents are less likely to engage in activities which are educationally supportive with their children. This includes reading to them, playing educational games which are cognitively stimulating, taking the kids on educational outings and trips, etc. This puts these kids at a disadvantage because they may not know things those other students were exposed to at a much earlier stage.
  • More control – Parents from lower social classes are also more likely to exert a greater degree of direct authority over their kids. If their children are not offered the opportunities to make decisions for themselves during their formative years, they will grow up less capable of critical thinking.

What can be done?

There are a number of things that can be done to help these students succeed. Enrolling children from lower social classes in education and child care centers may be the solution for parents who are unable to provide proper cognitive and developmental stimuli at home. In addition, many schools also offer after school programs as well as summer camps and programs which could offer students the chance to build essential skills. The key here is to encourage students from these backgrounds to join such programs.

Exposure to Lead

Studies show that children who have been exposed to lead, which has then been absorbed into their blood, suffer from several negative effects. This includes reduced cognitive ability (IQ) as well as an increase in violent and reckless behavioral traits. Communities which are disproportionately exposed to lead tend to be African American and of a lower income bracket.

What can be done?

Extensive lead clean-up, while expensive, must be carried out nationwide. By taking steps to address this very serious problem, communities would benefit in the long run in numerous ways. Children in that area would benefit from greater cognitive abilities, there would be a reduction in crime, and there would be a reduced need to spend on special education centers.

Erratic Working Hours

In today’s day and age, most people are working long and sometimes very irregular hours. Employee welfare is a pressing concern, not just for the employees themselves, but also because of the impacts an irregular working schedule can have on their families.

For families in which the parents are working long and irregular hours, the children inevitably suffer. Not being around enough for the child makes it difficult to prioritize their upbringing and care.

Studies have shown that in families where the parents are working irregular hours, children tend to have poor behavioral and cognitive skills, as well as poor mental health.

What can be done?

In cases of parents working irregular hours, serious reforms need to made to protect the rights of employees. Part of that is ensuring that the timings are regulated because many individuals have families who they need to take care of.

Coming from a broken home

Being a single parent not only puts immense pressure on the parent, but also has numerous effects on children. Statistics shows that most single-mothers in the United States tend to come from lower income brackets and are less educated.

This makes their children more likely to struggle in school. These students may struggle to score well on tests, may drop out of school, and may even exhibit a wide range of problematic behavioral and emotional issues. Kids from these backgrounds are more prone to getting involved in drugs, delinquency, reckless behavior, and are even more likely to drop out of school.

What can be done?

In these cases, it’s sometimes best to address the root of the problem to begin with. In schools, children should have access to sex education and have proper health centers at school which are accessible to them.

On a broader scale, society needs to provide more opportunities for single mothers to earn better incomes so as to be able to provide a better environment for their children to grow up in.

Access to Healthcare

Lack of access to health facilities is a huge social disadvantage for certain children, making success in school very difficult. Children who come from low-income neighborhoods or who have parents who are less educated are more likely to have inadequate access to proper health care, including primary and preventative care. 

This means that these families don’t have access to a primary physician and therefore don’t receive the proper care they need. If they have a condition or problem which needs to be looked into, they are less likely to be referred to a specialist.

Although there are no studies which indicate that there is a direct relationship between healthcare access and cognitive abilities, the relationship is easy to infer. If a child gets sick and doesn’t receive the care they need, they are more likely to be absent from school more frequently.

What can be done?

In order to prevent unnecessary absences from school, children need to have access to proper health care. Schools can play an active role in providing students with proper health centers within the school itself.

In addition, more primary care physicians should be encouraged to practice in low-income neighborhoods so that these families can get the healthcare they need.


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