Education and Social Stratification overview

The main aim of this programme of research was to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms through which social class differences in entry to, progression in and attainment at tertiary education affect individuals’ labour market outcomes and their civic participation. Building upon existing work on educational differentiation and social inequalities (Lucas, 2001; Shavit, Arum & Gamoran, 2007) and the role of education for social mobility (Marshall et al., 1997; Breen, 2004; Iannelli & Paterson, 2007) and for holding liberal social values and for civic participation (Bynner et al., 2003; Egerton, 2002; Paterson, 2009), the research aimed to advance knowledge by providing an in-depth analysis of individuals’ educational and labour market trajectories and how they have changed over time. In particular, it examined the role that institutional differentiation of curriculum and status within education has in shaping individuals’ life chances. Using high-quality longitudinal data from the UK and other partner countries (Ireland, Germany and the USA) we examined the long-term effects of different educational experiences, and compared how different educational and labour market contexts as well as national policies may impact on individuals’ educational, labour market and civic opportunities.

Three interconnected phases were staggered across the period of the ESRC grant.

For further information about any of this research, please contact Professor Cristina Iannelli

Phase 1: Analysing inequalities in access to and participation in tertiary education
This phase investigated how social class (and other demographic variables) relates to educational expansion and institutional differentiation of curriculum and status, and how these factors affect participation of different social groups at different life stages (i.e. school leavers and adult learners). Research questions included: How does the curriculum studied at secondary school affect individual chances of entering different institutions and subjects at tertiary level? Is the choice of entering certain institutions and subjects at tertiary level affected by proximity to the institution? If so, is this related to social class? How does attendance at different educational institutions and the study of different curricula affect progression and attainment in tertiary education of people from different social groups?

Phase 2: Exploring the relationship between educational achievement, employment opportunities and social mobility
Here we focused particularly on the new economy of flexible labour markets, short-term contracts and global markets in professional employment. Research questions included: How does attendance at different educational institutions and the study of different curricula affect individuals’ labour market outcomes? Do individuals from different social classes have different labour market trajectories? Does the propensity to be more or less spatially mobile when choosing a tertiary institution have consequences for individuals’ labour market returns?

Phase 3: Identifying the relationship between education, civic values and civic participation
We aimed to find out whether education and civic values (e.g. attitudes to democracy, civil liberties, rights and duties) affect the propensity to take part in various voluntary and political activities. The research questions were: To what extent does the reality of mass education achieve these civic goals? How do these outcomes relate to the labour-market and social-mobility outcomes? What is the relationship of education to civic values and civic participation at a time when education has expanded enormously but the social basis of democracy seems insecure?


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