How does cultural capital affect educational performance: Signals or skills?

Asta Breinholt*, Mads Meier Jæger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In this paper, we test two mechanisms through which cultural capital might affect educational performance: (a) teachers misinterpreting cultural capital as signals of academic brilliance and (b) cultural capital fostering skills in children that enhance educational performance. We analyse data from the ECLS‐K and ECLS‐K:2011 from the United States and focus on three aspects of children’s cultural capital: participation in performing arts, reading interest and participation in athletics and clubs. We find that (1) none of the three aspects of cultural capital that we consider affects teachers’ evaluations of children’s academic skills; (2) reading interest has a direct positive effect on educational performance; and (3) the direct effect of reading interest on educational performance does not depend on schooling context. Our results provide little support for the hypothesis that cultural capital operates via signals about academic brilliance. Instead, they suggest that cultural capital fosters skills in children that enhance educational performance. We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings.
Translated title of the contributionHvordan påvirker kulturel kapital faglige præstationer: signaler eller færdigheder?
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)28-46
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • cultural capital
  • educational success
  • non-cognitive skills
  • schooling context
  • teacher bias

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