How does cultural capital affect educational performance: Signals or skills?

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In this paper, we test two mechanisms through which cultural capital might affect educational performance: (a) teachers misinterpreting cultural capital as signals of academic brilliance and (b) cultural capital fostering skills in children that enhance educational performance. We analyse data from the ECLS‐K and ECLS‐K:2011 from the United States and focus on three aspects of children’s cultural capital: participation in performing arts, reading interest and participation in athletics and clubs. We find that (1) none of the three aspects of cultural capital that we consider affects teachers’ evaluations of children’s academic skills; (2) reading interest has a direct positive effect on educational performance; and (3) the direct effect of reading interest on educational performance does not depend on schooling context. Our results provide little support for the hypothesis that cultural capital operates via signals about academic brilliance. Instead, they suggest that cultural capital fosters skills in children that enhance educational performance. We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Pages (from-to)28–46
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - cultural capital, educational success, teacher bias, schooling context, non-cognitive skills

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