Research: Discrimination Impacts Educational Outcomes for Latinos


Latina student bullying cohesive culture research review
Share On Social!

This is part of the Salud America! Achieving a Cohesive Culture for Health Equity in Latino and All Communities: A Research Review»

Discrimination, Segregation Impacts Latino Students

Many Latino children are at risk of not getting the proper care, services, and environment they need for healthy formative development. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs; including racism, discrimination, and violence), poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and low participation in preschool programs can impair Latino children’s social and emotional development, health and wellbeing, and academic achievement.32

Even when minority children live in wealthier areas, research shows that they are often treated differently by teachers.

Schools Reopen Latino Students COVID-19 Inequities discrimination“[Children of color] are more likely to be harshly punished for minor infractions, less likely to be identified as needing special education, and teachers may underestimate their abilities,” according to one researcher.33

Also, U.S. Latino children are likely to enter elementary schools with fewer white peers than a generation ago. In 1998, Latino children attended elementary schools in which nearly 40% of their classmates were white; that percentage fell to just 30% in 2010.

This worsening segregation grows into severe isolation in large urban school districts. In the nation’s 10 poorest districts, Latino elementary students attended, on average, schools that were just 5% white—down from 7% white in 1998.34

Discrimination is Tied to Educational Attainment among Latino Students

Educational attainment is an important factor for future health and wellbeing.

Yet the high school dropout rate among Latino students is 17.6%, a rate that is much higher than African American students (9.3%), white students (5.2%), and Asian American students (3.4%). In addition, only 76.8% of Latinos aged 18 to 24 years have earned a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED).35 Lower educational attainment among black and Latino students is associated with an increased risk of institutionalization, poorer physical and mental health, increased risk of dependence on social services, and reduced lifetime earning potential.35

Racial discrimination is a risk factor for poor academic performance for Latino students, whether that discrimination is perpetrated by teachers, peers, police, or business owners. It may also negatively impact Latino students’ perception of the economic value of education. Mroczkowski et al.35 surveyed low-income Latino students from a large city in the Midwestern United States (city not named in study). Results showed that greater perceived discrimination was associated with greater perceived economic limitations of education.35

school child trauma handle with care discrimination segregationSanchez et al.36 recruited 9th grade Latino students from two public high schools in a large midwestern city to determine whether mentoring had any influence on the effects of discrimination on Latino students.36

Results demonstrated that perceived racial discrimination in 9th grade significantly negatively predicted coping efficacy in 10th grade; however, instrumental mentoring quality in 9th grade was a significant positive predictor of coping in 10th grade. Greater racial discrimination was significantly associated with lower instrumental mentoring quality, which predicted lower coping efficacy with discrimination. The quality of the mentoring relationship did not weaken the negative association between discrimination and coping efficacy.36

In a cross-examination of data from three waves of the Add Health survey, Thompson et al.37 aimed to determine whether and to what extent self-identified race category and perceived skin tone influence educational performance, and whether race and skin tone may predict school outcomes.37 Darker skin tone was associated with lower GPA on average compared to lighter skin tone, with a 0.4-point GPA differential, and African American, Latino, Native American, and multiracial students were found to earn significantly lower grades than white students.37

Experiencing discrimination impacts a child’s health and development, according to a meta-analysis of 214 child-focused studies by Benner et al.38 The researchers found that experiencing discrimination is consistently linked to poorer mental health, lower academic achievement and more engagement in risky or negative behavior, which sets the stage for future health disparities. Children with Latino or Asian backgrounds were at greater risk for the negative effects of discrimination on depression and other mental health issues than African Americans. The researchers also found that discrimination was more detrimental to Latino males’ academics, compared with Latinas and African Americans. Benner et al. also theorized that Latinos experience a type of discrimination in which they are viewed as “perpetual foreigners.”38

The 2019 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report noted that high school graduation rates are lower and unemployment rates higher in the Southeast, Southwest, Mississippi Delta, and Appalachian regions of the United States, areas with high Latino populations. In addition, blacks, Latinos, and American Indians have fewer economic and academic opportunities, as one in four do not graduate from high school in four years.10

Quick links from our Research Review »

See the Guide: Implicit Bias!

See the Guide: System Justification!

See the Guide: Moral Disengagement!

More from our Research Review »

References for this section »

10. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. 2019 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report.; 2019. Accessed June 11, 2020.

32. Salud America!, Ramirez A, Gallion K, Swanson J. The State of Latino Early Childhood Development. Accessed June 15, 2020.

33. McCarthy C. How racism harms children – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing. Published September 14, 2019. Accessed June 15, 2020.

34. Fuller B, Kim Y, Galindo C, et al. Worsening School Segregation for Latino Children? Educ Res. July 2019. Accessed June 15, 2020.

35. Mroczkowski AL, Sánchez B. The Role of Racial Discrimination in the Economic Value of Education Among Urban, Low-Income Latina/o Youth: Ethnic Identity and Gender as Moderators. Am J Community Psychol. 2015;56(1-2). doi:10.1007/s10464-015-9728-9

36. Sánchez B, Mroczkowski AL, Liao LC, Cooper AC, Rivera C, DuBois DL. Mentoring as a Mediator or Moderator of the Association between Racial Discrimination and Coping Efficacy in Urban, Low-Income Latina/o Youth. Am J Community Psychol. 2017;59(1-2):15-24. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12114

37. Thompson MS, McDonald S. Race, Skin Tone, and Educational Achievement. Sociol Perspect. 2016;59(1):91-111. doi:10.1177/0731121415580026.

38. Benner AD, Wang Y, Shen Y, Boyle AE, Polk R, Cheng YP. Racial/ethnic discrimination and well-being during adolescence: A meta-analytic review. Am Psychol. 2018;73(7):855-883. doi:10.1037/amp0000204


By The Numbers By The Numbers


Big Excuses

people use to justify discriminatory behavior

Share your thoughts