Perseverance, Passion, and Poverty: Examining the association between grit and reading achievement in high-poverty schools

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP06/2020

Publication date: April 2020


This paper examines whether school characteristics moderate the association between grit and reading achievement in a sample of Grade 6 learners in high-poverty contexts. The analysis makes use of data from 2,383 learners distributed across 60 township and rural schools in three provinces of South Africa. Indicators of school functionality are used to split the sample of schools into three groups (low, medium, and high functionality) and separate models of reading achievement are estimated for each group. The econometric analysis points to evidence of variation in the association between grit and reading achievement by school functionality, with a stronger association estimated for learners in more functional schools. The major contributions of this paper are as follows: Firstly, this paper is one of only a handful of studies that estimate the relationship between grit and academic achievement in a middle- income country, and the first to estimate this relationship among primary school learners in an African context. Second, the results provide empirical evidence in support of the hypothesis that school characteristics interact with non-cognitive skills to produce learning outcomes, a relationship that has received scant attention in the literature to date.

JEL Classification:

I20, I24, I29


Socio-emotional skills, grit, perseverance, school poverty