The impact of music on childhood and adolescent achievement

Southgate, D.E. & Roscigno, V.J. (2009). The impact of music on childhood and adolescent achievement. Social Science Quarterly, 90(1): 4-21.


This large-scale, longitudinal study examines the relationship of music involvement to math and reading achievement for 4376 children and 7781 adolescents in public and private schools in the U.S. In their analyses, the researchers controlled for variables of social status, race/ethnicity, gender, and prior achievement in order to more precisely isolate the relationship between in-school, out-of-school, and parent-related music participation and academic outcomes. The authors found that socio-economic status predicted stratification of achievement, which was somewhat mediated by rates of music participation. They also found a general positive relationship between music involvement and math and reading achievement.

Key Findings:

In a two-stage analysis, the researchers first explored participation in music inside and outside school in relation to variables of socio-economic status, race/ethnicity and gender. They found that variation in socio-economic status was not a significant factor in this analysis for children, but that it was a factor for adolescents. They also found that black, Asian, and Hispanic children and adolescents were comparatively less involved in music than their white peers and that there were no significant gender differences in music participation. Next, the researchers examined whether music participation was related to math and reading achievement. Even after controlling for past achievement, they found that music was positively associated with math and reading achievement. In-school music participation predicted reading achievement for both children and adolescents. Out-of-school music participation predicted the same for adolescents. Furthermore, in-school and parent-related participation predicted math achievement for children.

Significance of the Findings:

The researchers offer a design in this study that addresses previous confounds of in-school/out-of-school music participation, socio-economic status, and prior achievement. In doing so, rather than using music participation simply to predict academic achievement, they offer a strong, yet nuanced argument that music may mediate, but not resolve, some of the disadvantages in access to cultural capital that relate in particular to variables of socio-economic status and race/ethnicity.


Drawing from a K-1 subset of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) and a eight, tenth and twelfth grade subset from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS:88), the researchers included 4376 children and 7781 adolescents in this study. They used statistical analysis (logistic and ordinary least squares regression analyses) to analyze the relationship between in-school, out-of-school, and parent-related music involvement and math and reading achievement on standardized tests. They controlled for variations related to socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, gender, and past performance in an effort to more precisely isolate achievement outcomes as they relate to music.

Limitations of the Research:

As the researchers describe, the information sources from which they pulled their data did not have measures of the duration or the quality of the subjects’ music participation. However, this may be mitigated by the study’s large sample size.

Questions to Guide New Research:

The researchers note two questions for future, related research: (1) what are the microinteractional processes of music involvement for children/adolescents/families of different socio-economic backgrounds; and (2) what cognitive and social tools does music involvement provide that also aid in navigating educational settings and systems?