Inequalities in youth citizenship knowledge

Do language abilities of classroom peers matter?




citizenship competence, language, compositional effects, primary education


Keywords: citizenship competence, language, compositional effects, primary education


  • Is acquiring individual citizenship knowledge also associated with peer language environment?
  • Students in classes with lower language achievement attain higher civic knowledge scores
  • High language-achievement students do better if part of lower language achievement class
  • Students with lower achievement level do better when part of a better performing class
  • Also the variance in language skills in the class influences citizenship knowledge

Purpose: The degree to which inequalities in citizenship outcomes of students develop, may depend on the composition of the classroom. We investigate to what degree language competences of the students’ class mates are associated with youth citizenship knowledge.

Design/methodology/approach: A Dutch nationally representative data was used. Given the nested structure of the data, multilevel analyses were performed.

Findings: Inequalities in citizenship knowledge may be reduced when low language ability students are surrounded with classroom peers who display both variation in and high average levels of language ability. Being surrounded with high language ability peers was shown to have a negative general effect on citizenship knowledge of lower performing students, in line with the big-fish-little-pond effect.

Research limitations/implications: Before recommending our findings as a basis for policy-making within schools, additional evidence must be gathered to establish the causal nature of the relationships suggested by our analyses.

Author Biographies

Bram Eidhof, Bureau Common Ground

Bram Eidhof is a former assistant professor at the University of Humanistic Studies in the Netherlands. He wrote his PhD on citizenship education at the University of Amsterdam and currently designs citizenship education programmes at his own organization bureau Common Ground.

Geert Ten Dam, University of Amsterdam

Geert ten Dam ( is a full professor of education, Research Institute of Child Development and Education (CDE) at the University of Amsterdam. Nieuwe Achtergracht 127, 1012 WX Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Anne Bert Dijkstra, University of Amsterdam

Anne Bert Dijkstra ( is a professor by special appointment of in the field of Supervision and Evaluation of Socialization in Education at the University of Amsterdam. He is also Program Director for the quality of supervision in the social domain by the Inspectorate of Education in the Netherlands.

Herman van de Werfhorst, University of Amsterdam

Herman van de Werfhorst is full professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam (on leave from September 2022), and professor of Sociology at the European University Institute from September 2022.


  • Abstract
  • PDF
Further information



How to Cite

Eidhof, B., Ten Dam, G., Dijkstra, A. B., & van de Werfhorst, H. (2022). Inequalities in youth citizenship knowledge: Do language abilities of classroom peers matter?. JSSE - Journal of Social Science Education, 21(3).