Educational inequalities at the intersection of multiple social categories: An introduction and systematic review of the multilevel analysis of individual heterogeneity and discriminatory accuracy (MAIHDA) approach

Image credit: Keller et al. (2023), Educational Psychology Review


Intersectional approaches have become increasingly important for explaining educational inequalities because they help to improve our understanding of how individual experiences are shaped by simultaneous membership in multiple social categories that are associated with interconnected systems of power, privilege, and oppression. For years, there has been a call in psychological and educational research for quantitative approaches that can account for the intersection of multiple social categories. The present paper introduces the Multilevel Analysis of Individual Heterogeneity and Discriminatory Accuracy (MAIHDA) approach, a novel intersectional approach from epidemiology, to study educational inequalities. The MAIHDA approach uses a multilevel model as the statistical framework to define intersectional strata that represent individuals’ membership in multiple social categories. By partitioning the variance within and between intersectional strata, the MAIHDA approach allows identifying intersectional effects at the strata level as well as obtaining information on the discriminatory accuracy of these strata for predicting individual educational outcomes. Compared to conventional quantitative intersectional approaches, MAIHDA analyses have several advantages, including better scalability for higher dimensions, model parsimony, and precision-weighted estimates of strata with small sample sizes. We provide a systematic review of its past application and illustrate its use by analyzing inequalities in reading achievement across 40 unique intersectional strata (combining the social categories of gender, immigrant background, parental education, and parental occupational status) using data from 15-year-old students in Germany (N = 5451). We conclude that the MAIHDA approach is a valuable intersectional tool to study inequalities in educational contexts.

Educational Psychology Review
Lena Kristina Keller
Lena Kristina Keller

Psychologist, empirical educational research, quantitative methods enthusiast