"Education and Social Mobility: New Analytical Approaches" – University of Copenhagen

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18 November 2013

"Education and Social Mobility: New Analytical Approaches"

Article by Kristian Bernt Karlson, Department of Sociology, and Richard Breen, Sociology Chair at Yale University, in European Sociological Review.

The role of education in social mobility processes

In the sociology of stratification, most scholars posit that education should have become increasingly important for social class mobility in the Western countries over the 20th century. This is argued not only by those scholars who believe in the growing importance of merit as the basis on which rewards in society are allocated, but also by scholars who view the monopolizing of educational credentials as one of the most important means by which privileged families secure privileged positions for their children.

Yet, previous research has been ill-equipped for addressing the question of whether education has come to play an increasing role in intergenerational social class mobility. The paper develops tools for measuring the degree to which education mediates social mobility, and it proposes ways of summarizing the mediating role of education. The latter development is particularly useful in comparative stratification research in which researchers often prefer optimal summaries for comparisons across birth cohorts, countries, or both.

Education and social mobility in 20th century Britain

The paper applies the new tools to examine whether education has come to play an increasing role in intergenerational social class mobility in Britain during the 20th century. Britain is a particularly instructive case, because research on trends in social mobility, suggests little change in overall relative class mobility over the 20th century.

Our analyses shows that the role of education in social mobility in Britain has changed little over 20th century: Roughly half of the association roughly half of the association between class origins and destinations is mediated via educational attainment.

Read the full article here.