Hidden asymmetries in explaining intergenerational transmission of educational attainment in Europe: set analytic comparison

Educational inequality and the role of parental resources in its reproduction is important strand of stratification research. The prominence of education in social policy is restored by social investment turn which has hoped to break the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage. However, there is a growing criticism against some of the exaggerated expectations of social investment policies and its abilities to mitigate educational inequality. This paper explores how parental resources work together to secure higher education for their offspring, focusing on institutionalised and objectified forms of parental resources. A novel approach is used: set-theoretical exploration of the connection between parental resources and educational attainment. This approach is arguably especially valuable in stratification research to assess the degree of crystallisation and potential asymmetries of social structures. PIAAC data are used to compare six European countries and three cohorts. The analysis shows important differences between countries in inherited advantages and disadvantages as well as their dynamics. In general, the importance of acute disadvantages in hindering higher educational attainment tend to be much higher than exceptional advantages in fostering higher educational attainment. At the same time the changes across cohorts are bigger in case of advantages indicating that educational expansion and policies to enhance educational equality have had more influence on that linkage. Furthermore, acute disadvantages in hindering higher educational attainment tend to be consistent in both, explicitly and implicitly stratified education systems. The main methodological conclusion is that the set-theoretical approach allows to reveal asymmetries in analysing the impact of parental resources separating the examination of combined advantages from analysis of combined disadvantages.
Paper co-authored by Professor Elluu Saar, Tallinn University.