Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Social Class, Ability and Choice of Subject in Secondary and Tertiary Education in Britain

By Herman van der Werfhorst, Alice Sullivan and Sin Yi Cheung

Abstract

This paper examines the impact of family background (social class, cultural and economic capital) and ability on the choice of subjects in secondary and tertiary education in Britain. Using a framework that integrates rational choice perspectives and cultural reproduction theory, we assume that children take their parents’ social position as a reference for their own choices, and are guided mainly by the amount of economic and cultural capital that is available within the family. Using longitudinal data from the 1958 British birth cohort (N = 13,245), the empirical analysis shows that children from higher social class backgrounds achieved a higher standard in both humanities and scientific subjects in primary and secondary school. Furthermore, children of the professional class were relatively likely to choose the prestigious subjects of medicine and law in university, independent of ability. Both absolute and relative levels of ability were relevant to the choice of subject at degree level, as it was found that people chose subjects that they were relatively good at compared to other subjects. This concept of ‘comparative advantage’ gives additional insight into field-of-study choices, but does not explain the gender segregation across disciplines

Year: 2003
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.ioe.ac.uk.oai2:1876

Suggested articles

Citations

  1. (1993). Adolescent Econometricians, in
  2. (2000). Analyzing Educational Careers: A Multinomial Transition Model,
  3. (1996). Can Education Be Equalized? The Swedish Case in Comparative Perspective (Boulder,
  4. (1996). Class Analysis and the Reorientation of Class Theory: the Case of Persisting Differentials in Educational Attainment,
  5. (1997). Class Inequality and Egalitarian Reform.
  6. (1997). Cultural and Educational Careers: The Dynamics of Social Reproduction,
  7. (1997). Cultural Practices and Socio-economic Attainment: The Australian Experience.
  8. (1983). Cultural Production and Theories of Reproduction, in:
  9. (1977). Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction, in:
  10. (1967). Democratic Consensual Norms and the College Student,
  11. (1984). Distinction. A Social Critique of the
  12. (1993). Educational Reform in the Netherlands:
  13. (1997). Explaining Educational Differentials: Towards a Formal Rational Action Theory,
  14. (1999). Explaining Sex Differences in Educational Choice: An Empirical Assessment of a Rational Choice Model,
  15. (2001). Field of Study and Social Inequality: FieldRelated Educational Resources and Their Consequences for Labor Market Outcomes, Consumption Patterns, and Socio-Political Orientations,
  16. (1997). Fields of Study, College Selectivity,
  17. (1972). Graduates: The Sociology of an Elite.
  18. (2000). Intergenerational Transmission of Educational Field Resources: The Impact of Parental Resources and Socialisation Practices on Children’s Fields of Study in the Netherlands, The Netherlands'
  19. (1975). Methods and Results in the IEA studies of the effects of school on learning,
  20. (1998). Multidimensional Influences of Family Environment in Education: The Case of Socialist Czechoslovakia, doi
  21. (2000). Parental Cultural Capital and Educational Attainment in the Netherlands: A Refinement of the Cultural Capital Perspective,
  22. (1998). Parental Role Models, Gender, and Educational Choice,
  23. (1993). Persistent Inequality. Changing Educational Attainment in Thirteen Countries.
  24. (2001). Rational Choice under Unequal Constraints: The Example of Belgian Higher Education,
  25. (1988). School Matters.
  26. (1997). Social and Economic Inequality in the Educational Career: Do the Effects of Social Background Characteristics Decline?,
  27. (1980). Social Background and School Continuation Decisions,
  28. (1993). Social Class and Educational Attainment in Historical Perspective: A Swedish-English Comparison Part I,
  29. (1993). Social Class and Educational Attainment in Historical Perspective: A Swedish-English Comparison Part II,
  30. (1986). Sociopolitical Ideology and
  31. (1977). Sources of Difference in School Attainment, Report to the Carnegie Corporation,
  32. (1981). The Education and the Economy: Titles and Jobs.
  33. (1997). The Gender Gap in Earnings at Career Entry,
  34. (1967). The High School Years: Growth in Cognitive Skills.
  35. (1995). The National Child Development Study: An Introduction to the Origins of the Study and the Methods of Data Collection, NCDS User Support Group, Working paper 1.
  36. (1975). The Surveys of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Attainment (IEA): Implications of the IEA surveys of attainment,
  37. (1999). Wiskunde en Taalvaardigheid als Voorspeller van BKeuzen

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.