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Journal Article

Social class and educational attainment: a comparative study of England, Wales, and Scotland


Publication date



This article examines variations among England, Wales, and Scotland in the association between social origin and educational attainment and the role that different national educational policies may have played in shaping these variations. The findings show that country variation in the association between origins and attainment was mostly or entirely due to variations in overall levels of attainment. Moreover, inequality was the highest where the proportions attaining a particular threshold were the highest—upper secondary school or higher in Scotland. The authors propose a refinement of Raftery and Hout's theory of maximally maintained inequality that takes into account that the trajectory of inequality is not linear: inequality can widen in the initial phase of expanding opportunity, en route to an eventual contraction, because the most advantaged groups are the first to exploit any new opportunities that policy changes offer. The results show that country differences in educational policy have not yielded different changes over time in the association between origin and educational attainment.

Published in

Sociology of Education


80 (4):330-358


Demography, Education, Social Stratification, and Social Policy



No doi given; Albert Sloman Library Periodicals *restricted to Univ. Essex registered users*


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