28 SES 06, Elite Education, Intergenerational Transmission of Education and Inequality: Discourses and Practices
In meritocratic education systems, in theory, educational attainments should be in direct proportion to individual merit. However, research has demonstrated social disparities in educational attainment. That is, children of less educated parents tend to end up being less educated themselves (Hertz et al., 2007). On average across OECD countries, for example, only one in five students, whose parents have low levels of education, attains a degree in tertiary education, compared to two thirds of students from families with at least one parent with tertiary education (OECD, 2012). Hence parental education tends to be passed down to children; and the degree of intergenerational transmission of educational attainment may be considered as a measure of actual inequality of educational opportunity.
It is a widely held belief that differences in educational attainment reflect differences in natural abilities (i.e., genetics), transmitted from parents to children. However, growing up poor significantly decreases the chances that young people might have of escaping poverty, irrespective of their actual intellectual ability (Fischer et al., 1996); and children’s educational achievements frequently vary not only by parental educational background, but also by other social, cultural and economic characteristics even where their cognitive skills are assumed to be comparable (e.g., Becker & Schulze, 2013; Pfeffer, 2008). The study of social inequalities in education has therefore been a concern of several disciplines. However, we still lack an overall picture of the mechanisms through which educational attainment is passed on from one generation to the next. This study aims to address this desideratum. It will extend research on social stratification and mobility by focusing on processes of intergenerational transmission of educational attainment, for two reasons. First, parental education is among the primary predictors of children’s educational achievement (Ou & Reynolds, 2008). Second, education has been considered as the main factor in both social mobility and the reproduction of social status across generations (Hout & DiPrete, 2006). Thus, both scientists and policymakers need to have detailed knowledge of the generative mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of educational attainment. By now, we know that educational inequalities are moderated by characteristics of the individual, the family and wider socio-cultural contexts. For instance, research has shown that at the individual level the intergenerational transmission of education can be influenced by a child’s predispositions and abilities (Lucchini, Della Bella, & Pisati, 2013), parenting practices (Lareau, 2002),family structures (Martin, 2012), the possession of cultural capital (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1970) and educational choices of children and their parents (cf. rational choice models, Boudon, 1974). At the context level, factors moderating educational inequalities by social origins include institutional arrangements such as structures of education systems (differentiation, standardization; Van de Werfhorst & Mijs, 2010), segregation between educational institutions and areas (Teese, Lamb, & Duru-Bellat, 2007), availability of early childhood care and education (Freitag & Schlicht, 2008), quality of education systems (Van Doorn, Pop, & Wolbers, 2011), political regimes (Zhou, Tuma, & Moen, 1996), modernization and attendant economic and technological developments (Müller & Karle, 1993), educational expansion (Ballarino et al., 2009), and immigration patterns (Yaish & Andersen, 2012). This study contributes to the literature by focusing on the role that educational policies play in the process of educational transmission. It addresses the following research question: How do countries’ educational policies moderate the degree of intergenerational transmission of education in European countries?
Ballarino, G., et al. (2009). Persistent inequalities? Expansion of education and class inequality in Italy and Spain. European Sociological Review, 25(1), 123–138. Becker, R., & Schulze, A. (2013). Bildungskontexte. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Boudon, R. (1974). Education, opportunity and social inequality: Changing prospects in Western society. New York: Wiley. Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1970). La Reproduction. Paris: Éditions de minuit. Fischer, C. S., et al. (1996). Inequality by design: Cracking the bell curve myth. Princeton: University Press. Freitag, M., & Schlicht, R. (2009). Educational federalism in Germany. Governance, 22(1), 47–72. Hertz, T., et al. (2007). The inheritance of educational inequality: International comparisons and fifty-year trends. The B.E. Journal of Economic & Policy, 7(2), 1–46. Hout, M., & DiPrete, T. A. (2006). What we have learned: RC28's contribution to knowledge about social stratification. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 24, 1–20. Lareau, A. (2002). Invisible inequality: Social class and childrearing in black families and white families. Sociology of Education, 67(5), 747–776. Lucchini, M., Della Bella, S., & Pisati, M. (2013). The weight of the genetic and environmental dimensions in the inter-generational transmission of educational success. European Sociological Review, 29(2), 289–301. Martin, M. A. (2012). Family structure and the intergenerational transmission of educational advantage. Social Science Research, 41, 33-47. Müller, W., & Karle, W. (1993). Social selection in educational systems in Europe. European Sociological Review, 9(1), 1–23. OECD (2012). Education at a glance: Highlights. Paris: OECD Publishing. Ou, S.-R., & Reynolds, A. J. (2008). Predictors of educational attainment in the Chicago longitudinal study. School Psychology Quarterly, 23, 199–229. Pfeffer, F. T. (2008). Persistent inequality in educational attainment and its institutional context. European Sociological Review, 24(5), 543–565. Teese, R., Lamb, S., & Duru-Bellat, M. (eds.) (2007). International studies in educational inequality, theory and policy. Dordrecht: Springer. Van de Werfhorst, H. G., & Mijs, J. J. B. (2010). Achievement inequality and the institutional structure of educational systems: A comparative perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 407–428. Van Doorn, M., Pop, I., & Wolbers, M. H. J. (2011). Intergenerational transmission of education across European countries and cohorts. European Societies, 13, 93–117. Yaish, M., & Andersen, R. (2012). Social mobility in 20 modern societies. Social Science Research, 41, 527–538. Zhou, X., Tuma, N., & Moen, P. (1996). Stratification dynamics under state socialism: The case of urban China, 1949-1993. Social Forces, 74, 759–796.
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