How family conditions affect students’ learning

The impact of family status on student achievement

Even today, many of the opportunities that girls and boys receive depend directly on family status. Firstly, for strictly socio-economic reasons.

A family with fewer resources has more difficulty investing in their children’s education. Then there are factors of a cultural nature: for example in a family where the parents do not read, the children will also be readers less often.

77.4% of minors children of readers read. When neither parent reads, the share drops to 35.4%. (Istat, 2021).

These trends also have an influence on students’ educational achievements. Those born into a disadvantaged family from a socio-economic-cultural point of view are more often left behind. For this reason, it is a priority to guarantee everyone – regardless of income and family status – equal access to educational opportunities. From childcare services to access to places of culture or places to play sports.

Without interventions of this type, the already wide disparities risk widening further.


SOURCE: elaboration openpolis – With the Children on Invalsi data
(last update: Friday 8 October 2021)

In eighth grade, almost 19% of girls and boys who come from families in the highest socio-economic-cultural bracket reach the maximum level (the fifth) in Italian skills. In reverse, the share collapses to 7.1% among pupils of medium-low family status and even to 3.4% among those of low condition.

27.5% of disadvantaged students in middle school is at the lowest level in the Invalsi Italian tests.

Among disadvantaged pupils, more than 1 in 4 reaches level 1 at most, against 4.5% of peers with better family conditions. If those who reach level 2 at most (ie an insufficient degree of learning) are added together, the share among the disadvantaged rises to 59.5%.

37.3% of disadvantaged students from the south and the islands in middle school is at the lowest level in the Invalsi Italian tests.

Note how the share of disadvantaged bottom-performing students is not aligned across the country. Compared to an average 27.5%, in the north-west (20.7%) and north-east (22.6%) the share appears much more contained than in the south and islands (37.3%) . A division that for Invalsi purposes includes Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia.

Recurrences that, however, the aggregated data are not able to reconstruct with sufficient accuracy. And which therefore require in-depth study in a local key.

Where low incomes are concentrated in Italy

Before going into the analysis, two premises must be made. Firstly, i declared incomes are not always reliable of the actual socio-economic situation of taxpayers. Due to the phenomenon oftax evasionin fact, the real family status does not necessarily coincide with that declared to the tax authorities.

Moreover, as we have often pointed out, when dealing with the issue of educational poverty, income is only one of the elements to take into consideration. Aspects such as the educational, cultural and social disadvantage – although correlated with the economic condition – make the phenomenon so widespread as to require many points of view. However, even the annual income of a nucleus represents an important reference for assessing the family condition.

Even in this aspect the rift between the north and south of the country is evident. In midday, the share of taxpayers who, for 2020, declared between 0 and 10 thousand euros stood at between 39 and 40% of the total. A percentage 10 points higher than the national average (29.6%) and about 15 compared to what was found in the north of the country (23.9% in the north-west and north-east).

The highest percentage of registrants with less than 10,000 euros is found in Calabria (44.92%), Sicily (40.91%) and Campania (40.21%). The lowest in Emilia Romagna (22.77%) and Lombardy (23.25%).



The map was elaborated from the information on the tax returns made in 2021, relating to the 2020 tax year. It includes Irpef income, including both those from self-employment and those from employment.

SOURCE: elaboration by openpolis – Con i bambini based on Ministry of Economy and Finance data
(last update: Wednesday 13 April 2022)

Among the provinces, the territories of Crotone (48.53%), Vibo Valentia (46.50%), Cosenza (45.94%) and Agrigento (45.55%) stand out for a high share of declarations between 0 and 10 thousand euros %). The areas of the Bologna area (20.29%), the Lodi area (21.15%) and the Modena area (21.18%) are those in which the share is lower.

However, going down to the municipal level, it can be observed that many of the municipalities with a high percentage of declarations between 0 and 10 thousand euros are registered above all in small and very small northern municipalities. In particular in the provinces of Como, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Lecco. Municipalities often located in mountain areas subject to depopulation and largely inhabited by the elderly.

3 out of 4 taxpayers of the municipality of Cavargna (Como, 182 inhabitants) with declarations between 0 and 10 thousand euros. Here the population aged 80 or over is 12% of the total (Italian average: 7.6%).

However, if we exclude the minor municipalities – considering only those with at least 2,000 inhabitants – almost all belong to the major southern regions. With the exception of Goro (in the Ferrara area, 63% of declarations between 0 and 10 thousand euros), the others that exceed 60% are Grotteria (Reggio Calabria, 62.53%), in the same province Platì (62.39%) , Island of Capo Rizzuto (Crotone, 61.78%). A series of territories follow between Calabria, Sicily and Campania, such as Delia (Caltanissetta), Rosarno (Reggio Calabria), Camerota (Salerno), San Ferdinando and Melicucco (both in Reggio).

The link between family status and level of learning

Once the recurrences in income levels have been examined in depth, it is interesting to cross-reference this figure with the share of pupils who – province by province – are below learning levels 1 and 2. These are the lowest, below the which learning can be considered inadequate.



The vertical axis shows the percentage of middle school students who, in the Invalsi tests (2020/21) placed in the 2 lowest levels in the Italian tests (levels 1 and 2).

The horizontal axis shows the percentage of tax returns that in 2021 (tax year 2020) amounted to between 0 and 10 thousand euros.

SOURCE: elaboration by openpolis – Con i bambini based on data from the ministry of education and the Mef
(last update: Wednesday 13 April 2022)

The Crotone territory it is at the same time the one with the lowest learning levels in the Italian tests in middle school and the one where the share of incomes between 0 and 10 thousand euros is highest.

59.7% 3rd grade students in the province of Crotone with the 2 lowest levels of Italian proficiency.

In the Crotone area, over 48% of the declarations are between 0 and 10 thousand euros. In this same area, almost a third of the students who took part in the Invalsi Italian tests (medium III) achieved level 1, the lowest. By adding those at level 2, the percentage rises to 59.7%.

Also several other provinces of the south are characterized by the coexistence of the two phenomena (low income and low learning). For example, the provinces of Vibo Valentia, Agrigento, Cosenza, Trapani, Reggio Calabria, Ragusa, Enna, Caltanissetta and Foggia exceed 40% of low incomes and 50% of students with inadequate learning.

Download, share and reuse data

The contents of the Educational Poverty Observatory #with the children they are made by openpolis with the social enterprise Con i Bambini as part of the fund for the fight against child educational poverty. We make the data used in the article available in an open format. We have collected and processed them so that they can be analyzed in relation to other datasets from public sources, with the aim of creating a single territorial database on services. They can be freely reused for analyses, initiatives of data journalism or even for simple consultation. The data relating to incomes are sourced from the Ministry of Economy and Finance; those on the classification by internal areas are published by the agency for territorial cohesion; those on learning are from the Invalsi source.

Photo: Bratislavský kraj (BSK)License

How family conditions affect students’ learning – Openpolis