Inequality in Educational Outcomes : How Aspirations, Performance, and Choice Shape School Careers in Sweden

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Sociology, Stockholm University

Abstract: This thesis examines different aspects of educational inequalities, drawing on the notion that inequality in educational attainment depends on two separate mechanisms: that children from advantaged social backgrounds perform better at school (primary effects) and tend more than others to choose to continue in education given performance (secondary effects).Study I shows that the long-term decrease in social class inequality in the transition from compulsory to academic upper secondary education since the middle of the mid-20th century up to the late 1990s, seems to be related to both declining primary and secondary effects. Secondary effects account for around 35 to 40 percent of the total inequality in academic upper secondary education.Study II suggests that there has been a continuing trend of declining inequality in academic upper secondary education between pupils of high and low educational origin between 1998 and 2006, a development mainly driven by change in secondary effects. Primary effects have remained more stable and account for a substantial part of the inequality process across the two most important educational transitions.Study III indicates that class inequality in educational performance at age 16 is attributable to a non-trivial degree to a class gradient in aspirations at age 13. It is argued that survey information on aspirations may help disentangle how educational inequalities develop through feedback processes between skills and ambitions throughout educational careers. Treating early aspirations as anticipatory decisions, by letting their effect on performance represent a choice effect, suggests that cross-sectional estimates of the proportion secondary effects are downwardly biased by up to six percent.In Study IV, Swedish-born children of immigrant parents are shown to be a heterogeneous group in terms of educational outcomes, with some subgroups doing very well and others quite poorly. A polarized pattern is revealed. Many minority groups do not perform on a par with their majority peers in compulsory school. Conditional on grades, children with parents of a non-European background often do not enroll in upper secondary education, but among those who do, the propensity is high to choose academic studies over vocational.

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