Education and Social Mobility

  • How Has Educational Expansion Shaped Social Mobility Trends in the United States?
    Social Forces (2015), with Florian Hertel
    Download

    Show Abstract


    This contribution provides a long-term assessment of intergenerational social mobility trends in the United States across the 20th and early 21st centuries and assesses the determinants of those trends. In particular, we study how educational expansion has contributed to the observed changes in mobility opportunities for men across cohorts. Drawing on recently developed decomposition methods, we empirically identify the contribution of each of the multiple channels through which changing rates of educational participation shape mobility trends. We find that a modest but gradual increase in social class mobility can nearly exclusively be ascribed to an interaction known as the compositional effect, according to which the direct influence of social class backgrounds on social class destinations is lower among the growing number of individuals attaining higher levels of education. This dominant role of the compositional effect is also due to the fact that, despite pronounced changes in the distribution of education, class inequality in education has remained stable while class returns to education have shown no consistent trend. Our analyses also provide a cautionary tale about mistaking increasing levels of social class mobility for a general trend toward more fluidity in the United States. The impact of parental education on son’s educational and class attainment has grown or remained stable, respectively. Here, the compositional effect pertaining to the direct association between parental education and son’s class attainment counteracts a long-term trend of increasing inequality in educational attainment tied to parents’ education.

    Hide Abstract

  • Equality and Quality in Education
    Social Science Research (2015)
    Download

    Show Abstract


    This contribution assesses the performance of national education systems along two important dimensions: The degree to which they help individuals develop capabilities necessary for their successful social integration (educational quality) and the degree to which they confer equal opportunities for social advancement (educational equality). It advances a new conceptualization to measure quality and equality in education and then uses it to study the relationship between institutional differentiation and these outcomes. It relies on data on final educational credentials and literacy among adults that circumvent some of the under-appreciated conceptual challenges entailed in the widespread analysis of international student assessment data. The analyses reveal a positive relationship between educational quality and equality and show that education systems with a lower degree of institutional differentiation not only provide more educational equality but are also marked by higher levels of educational quality. While the latter association is partly driven by other institutional and macro-structural factors, I demonstrate that the higher levels of educational equality in less differentiated education systems do not entail an often-assumed trade-off for lower quality.

    Hide Abstract

  • The Community College Effect Revisited
    Sociological Science (2014), with Jennie Brand and Sara Goldrick-Rab
    Download

    Show Abstract


    Community colleges are controversial educational institutions, often said to simultaneously expand college opportunities and diminish baccalaureate attainment. We assess the seemingly contradictory functions of community colleges by attending to effect heterogeneity and alternative counterfactual conditions. Using data on postsecondary outcomes of high school graduates of Chicago Public Schools, we find that enrolling at a community college penalizes more advantaged students who otherwise would have attended four-year colleges, particularly highly selective schools; however, these students represent a relatively small portion of the community college population, and these estimates are almost certainly biased. On the other hand, enrolling at a community college has a modest positive effect on bachelor’s degree completion for disadvantaged students who otherwise would not have attended college; these students represent the majority of community college-goers. We conclude that discussions among scholars, policymakers, and practitioners should move beyond considering the pros and cons of community college attendance for students in general to attending to the implications of community college attendance for targeted groups of students.

    Hide Abstract

  • Intergenerational transmission of well-being
    Focus (2014), with Robert Schoeni
    Download

    Show Abstract


    In this article, we provide a brief overview of some established findings on intergenerational mobility as well as some new research directions

    Hide Abstract

  • Multigenerational Approaches to Social Mobility. A Multifaceted Research Agenda
    Research in Social Stratification and Mobility (2014)
    Download, Special Issue (editor)

    Show Abstract


    For decades, scholars have debated the main determinants of intergenerational mobility, its changing levels, cross-national differences and their explanations, and – from time to time – the theoretical underpinnings of the models used to assess it. And yet, one main assumption that has gone largely untested for all this time has been the idea that intergenerational social mobility should be measured as the similarity in socio-economic outcomes between parents and their offspring, that is, between two generations. This two-generation paradigm has most recently and forcefully been challenged by Robert Mare in his presidential address to the Population Association of America. This special issue brings together new work from sociologists, economists, and demographers as a response to Mare’s call for more research on multigenerational mobility processes. I discuss selected aspects of this broader multigenerational research agenda in an effort to provide an overview of some of the central unanswered questions lying ahead. I also point out some of the data sources available for multigenerational research and then focus on the Panel Study ofIncome Dynamics. I illustrate its use with a brief, original analysis of multigenerational educational mobility in the United States. The final section provides a brief summary of each contribution included here.

    Hide Abstract

  • Beyond Access. Explaining Socioeconomic Differences in College Transfer
    Sociology of Education (2009), with Sara Goldrick-Rab
    Download

    Show Abstract


    Reducing socioeconomic differences in college transfer requires understanding how and why parental education, occupational class, and family income are associated with changing colleges. Building on prior studies of traditional community college transfer, the authors explore relationships between those factors and two types of transfer among four-year college students. The results indicate that reverse transfer—the move from a four-year to a community college—is more common among students from less-educated families partly because of lower levels of academic performance during their freshman year. In contrast, students from advantaged backgrounds in terms of class and income are more likely than are others to engage in a lateral transfer—from a four-year to a four-year college—which may reflect individual preferences for changing colleges, rather than a reaction to poor academic performance. Implications for policy and practice are discussed in light of the fact that only reverse transfer is associated with lower rates of completion of bachelor’s degrees.

    Hide Abstract

  • Persistent Inequality in Educational Attainment and Its Institutional Context
    European Sociological Review (2008)
    Download

    Show Abstract


    Research has repeatedly shown that educational opportunities are distributed unevenly in all countries. Therefore, the question is not whether family background and educational outcomes are related but to what degree they are related. This latter question then invites a comparative perspective. That is, does social inequality in education differ across time and countries? If yes, which institutional characteristics can explain differences in educational inequality? Educational inequality is conceptualized as the association between individuals’ and their parents’ highest educational level attained. Intergenerational educational mobility processes are analysed for 20 industrialized nations by means of log-linear and log-multiplicative models. The results show that the degree of educational mobility has remained stable across the second half of the 20th century in virtually all countries. However, nations differ widely in the extent to which parents’ education influences their children’s educational attainment. The degree of educational inequality is associated with the institutional structure of national education systems. Rigid systems with dead-end educational pathways appear to be a hindrance to the equalization of educational opportunities, especially if the sorting of students occurs early in the educational career. This association is not mediated by other institutional characteristics included in this analysis that do not exert notable influences on educational mobility.

    Hide Abstract