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Keywords:

  • academic achievement;
  • cross-national studies;
  • family structure;
  • parents' education;
  • social background

This article explores the relationship between nations' level of economic development and the influence of adolescents' social backgrounds on their academic achievement. Using data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the authors found that the positive effect of higher parents' education on middle-school students' mathematics test scores is remarkably consistent among the 34 nations examined. In contrast, the relative advantage of living in a traditional family for mathematics achievement varies systematically between nations, being significantly greater in those with stronger economies. Although the influence of socioeconomic status on educational stratification does not appear to change, the deepening academic disadvantage of living with only one natural parent in more developed nations may result from marginalization of families in these societies.