Stress, Poverty, and the Achievement Gap: A Review

51 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2016

See all articles by Corey Bower

Corey Bower

State University of New York at Buffalo; Cullen Foundation

Date Written: April 12, 2016


The gaps in achievement and attainment between races and classes have long vexed our educational system, with the former remaining stubbornly stable and the latter growing in recent decades. Researchers consistently conclude that these gaps mostly form before school and during the summer as the result of a vast array of out-of-school influences, but policy has primarily aimed to change what happens inside schools. This paper investigates the potential efficacy of policies designed to alter one of these factors – stress – as a means of narrowing the achievement gap by synthesizing the empirical literature linking stress and academic performance, and reviewing the theoretical literature. Overall, the literature yields mixed results that offer a strong theoretical basis for, but only moderate empirical evidence of, such a relationship. Despite these results, significant reason exists to believe that stress can be a meaningful part of a social policy intervention designed to narrow the achievement gap.

Keywords: Stress, Trauma, Achievement Gap, Urban Poverty, ACE Scores

Suggested Citation

Bower, Corey and Bower, Corey, Stress, Poverty, and the Achievement Gap: A Review (April 12, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Corey Bower (Contact Author)

Cullen Foundation ( email )

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