Explaining Social Inequalities in Access to University: A Test of Rational Choice Mechanisms in Italy
European Sociological Review
GB : Oxford University Press
554 - 569 p.
Italy, educational inequalities, higher education, social inequalities, Breen Goldthorpe model
This work presents a direct empirical test of the Breen–Goldthorpe (BG) rational choice model applied to social inequalities in access to university in Italy. In particular, we assess to what extent secondary effects of social background on university enrolment are accounted for by families’ economic resources and relative risk aversion (RRA), among a recent cohort of high school graduates. We also assess the role played by students’ numeric expectations and general perceptions of university costs, the returns to university degrees, and their chances of successfully completing university. Compared with existing research, our contribution is based on a large-scale longitudinal study covering different areas of a new national case, includes a larger set of indicators measuring rational choice mechanisms, and proposes a novel measurement strategy for the indicator of RRA. The core finding is that rational choice mechanisms account for around one fifth of secondary effects of social origin in university enrolment. Family’s economic resources and RRA, the two explanatory mechanisms of the BG model, have a limited explanatory power, whereas the perception of the indirect costs associated to attending university is more important. Overall, high school track plays the most prominent role, thereby indicating that - despite the formal ‘openness’ of the system - a large part of inequalities in access to university in Italy are already produced when tracking first occurs in upper secondary education.