Parents with a low education level discriminated in school choice

7 April 2022

Child and adult holding hands.

The study shows that not all parents from different socio-economic groups have the same conditions in school choice.

Parents with a higher education and parents with Swedish names are treated better when they contact schools for information prior to choosing a school for their child. This is the conclusion of a study from Uppsala University in which 3,430 primary and lower-secondary schools were emailed by fictitious parents interested in learning more about the school. This is one of the largest discrimination experiments ever conducted in Sweden.

“Parents with a higher education received more cordial and welcoming responses. They were more likely to be informed that places were available at the school and received more positive information about the school’s attributes. The results demonstrate that not all parents from different socioeconomic groups have the same preconditions for choosing schools,” says Jonas Larsson Taghizadeh, a researcher in political science at Uppsala University, who conducted the study.

The study took the form of a major field study, with the researcher emailing a total of 3,430 primary and lower-secondary schools. The experiment, which covered almost all of the country, is one of the largest discrimination experiments ever conducted in Sweden. The study focused on parents interested in placing their children in a given school who had questions regarding the school’s profile, queue time and application process. Each email was signed by a fictitious parent who provided their name and occupation. Parents were divided into those with a low level of education, who identified themselves as nursing assistants in the email, and parents with a higher education, who identified themselves as dentists. Parents were also differentiated by having either Swedish-sounding or Arab-sounding names.

Did not receive the same information

The socioeconomically stronger parents received more encouragement to apply to the school in question, in the form of more information about available places and the school’s positive attributes. The socioeconomically weaker parents were less likely to receive the same information, and generally received less cordial and welcoming responses, potentially reducing the likelihood of them asking further questions of the school.

In terms of receiving any reply whatsoever to their email and their three preliminary questions, there were only slight differences between parents with a higher education and those without. The same applied when parents were broken down into those with Swedish-sounding and those with Arab-sounding names.

Jonas Larsson Taghizadeh
Jonas Larsson Taghizadeh is a researcher in
political science. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“This is vital knowledge. Socioeconomic discrimination is seldom discussed in the public discourse, nor is it among the grounds for discrimination in the Swedish Discrimination Act (SFS 2008:567). Nor has this form of discrimination been the subject of study to any great extent. Nonetheless, my study shows that socioeconomic discrimination occurs in Swedish schools, with potentially major negative consequences for both the individual citizen and the school system’s ability to offer all children an equitable education,” says Jonas Larsson Taghizadeh.

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Last modified: 2022-12-22