Towards an Education-based Meritocracy? : Why Modernisation and Social Reproduction theories cannot explain trends in educational inequalities: outline of an alternative explanation
ISA eSymposium for Sociology
educational inequality, social mobility, social origins, modernisation theory, persistent inequality
Education is the single most important determinantof life chances. Hence, reducing socioeconomic inequalities in education is a priority in promoting equal opportunities. This article first discusses concerning trends over time in inequalities of educational opportunity in western nations, arguing that evidence indicates that while these inequalities have declined in the post-war decades, they have stagnated for cohorts since the 1980s. Next, I argue that this pattern contradicts the expectations of the two dominant theories in the field: modernisation theory and persistent inequality. Finally, I argue that this empirical pattern is consistent with an institutional explanation which pays more attention than these theories do to the evolution of educational policies, labour market arrangements and welfare protection.