Socioeconomic status and school absenteeism: A systematic review and narrative synthesis

Edward M. Sosu (Lead / Corresponding author), Shadrach Dare, Claire Goodfellow, Markus Klein

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26 Citations (Scopus)
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School absenteeism is detrimental to life course outcomes and is known to be socioeconomically stratified. However, the link between socioeconomic status (SES) and school absence is complex given the multidimensional nature of both family SES (e.g., income, education, occupational status) and absenteeism (e.g., truancy, sickness, suspension). Despite the vast literature on socioeconomic inequalities in school attendance, no systematic review on SES and school absenteeism exists. This study systematically reviewed and provides a narrative synthesis of journal articles (n = 55) published between 1998 to 2019 on the association between SES dimensions and forms of absenteeism. The majority of studies from high-income contexts found an association between SES and absenteeism in the expected direction, albeit on average with small effect sizes. Studies largely confirmed these findings among populations at risk of school absence and those from low- and middle-income countries. There was greater evidence for an association between absenteeism and SES measured at the family than the school level. Studies using SES measures of financial resources (e.g., free or reduced-price lunch) provided more evidence for this association than studies measuring sociocultural resources (e.g., parental education). We found limited evidence that socioeconomic gaps in absenteeism vary by the reasons for absence. Research on the mediating pathways between SES and absenteeism is sparse. A key implication is that attempts to address inequalities in educational outcomes must include tackling SES gaps in school attendance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3291
Number of pages28
JournalReview of Education
Issue number3
Early online date18 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • socioeconomic status
  • school absences
  • school attendance
  • educational inequality


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