Photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash


Why are educational inequalities by gender and immigrant background not those we would expect given students’ aspirations, confidence, and stress?

Students with optimistic outlooks, do they really succeed? Boys typically have higher self-confidence and lower stress than girls, while students of immigrant origin often have higher aspirations and make more ambitious educational choices than students of majority origin. Yet, boys and youth of immigrant origin tend to have lower grades and less course completion than other students. Their psychological resources, which are assumed to promote educational success, do not appear to do so. For such optimistic orientations to translate to educational success, students should be engaged in learning and school. Therefore, this project examines if student engagement can help explain inequalities in educational outcomes, focusing on boys’ confidence and immigrant background youth’s optimism.

To further knowledge about educational inequalities in Sweden, we combine sociological perspectives on social stratification with psychological perspectives on student achievement. We study inequality in education between boys and girls and between students with different immigrant backgrounds. We ask to what extent optimistic beliefs such as aspirations and confidence are conducive of higher grades and attainment, and if so, what are the possible counteracting forces that hinder boys’ and immigrant-origin students’ achievement? Using existing data on a nationally representative sample of Swedish youth (CILS4EU), we examine grades and course completion in secondary, upper secondary and tertiary studies to identify which aspects of students' attitudes and behaviours are important for performance and choices in different stages of education. We apply a quantitative analytical approach, drawing on rich longitudinal information from surveys, cognitive and verbal tests, linked to register data. This allows us to account for family background, ability and prior achievement while examining the role of aspirations, confidence, student engagement and other psychosocial resources.



Principal Investigator

Stephanie Plenty - on leave Associate Professor, Sociology; PhD, Psychology

Project members

Frida Rudolphi PhD, Sociology