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Social Disadvantage and Education Experiences


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  • Stephen Machin


This paper discusses how social disadvantage affects the learning experiences of households with fewer economic resources, at each stage of the individuals' life-course, and on some of the "social" effects of such learning. It argues that while education can be an escalator out of social disadvantage — leading to better job prospects for youths facing greater risks of poverty and reducing the prevalence of income poverty in adult age — educational failure can reinforce it: a significant minority of students in several OECD countries do not even complete compulsory education; students' test scores in lower secondary education are strongly shaped by family characteristics; and the expansion of university education has most often benefited households with better educated parents. Far from "equalising" opportunities, education can be a powerful driver of social selection. When returns to education increase over time, this may lead to greater inter-generational persistence of poverty and less equality of opportunities. Ce document présente une analyse de la relation entre désavantage social et parcours éducatifs des individus issus d’un milieu familial défavorisé à chaque étape de leur vie, et décrit certaines des conséquences de ces parcours pour la société dans son ensemble. Une conclusion générale est que si la formation peut servir d’ascenseur social –– en offrant de meilleures perspectives d’emploi aux jeunes les plus menacés de dénuement et en réduisant la prévalence de la pauvreté économique à l’âge adulte –– l’échec scolaire peut en revanche renforcer le désavantage social : dans plusieurs pays de l’OCDE, une minorité importante d’élèves n’arrive même pas au terme de l’enseignement obligatoire ; dans le premier cycle du secondaire, les résultats des élèves aux tests dépendent beaucoup des caractéristiques de la famille ; et le développement des études universitaires a le plus souvent profité aux ménages dont les parents étaient relativement mieux instruits. Loin d’ « égaliser » les chances, l’éducation peut être un puissant moteur de sélection sociale. Dans un contexte où le rendement de la formation augmente avec le temps, cette dynamique pourrait conduire à une persistance de la pauvreté de génération en génération plus accentuée ainsi qu'une diminution de l’égalité des chances.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers with number 32.

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Date of creation: 17 Feb 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:oec:elsaab:32-en

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Cited by:
  1. Shulruf, Boaz & Tumen, Sarah & Tolley, Hilary, 2008. "Extracurricular activities in school, do they matter?," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 418-426, April.
  2. Vasilescu, Denisa Maria & Aparaschivei, Larisa & Roman, Mihai Daniel, 2012. "Employment in Romania: evidence from a panel data analysis," MPRA Paper 38388, University Library of Munich, Germany.


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