Essay On Educational Inequality


This dissertation consists of three chapters on labor economics. The first two chapters focus on education, and the third examines inequality and incarceration. Chapter one explores whether college students strategically delay exiting college in response to poor labor market conditions. It exploits variation in U.S. state unemployment rates to identify the causal impact of unemployment rates on time to graduation. Strategic delay is observed among both men and women. Results indicate that students delay graduation by approximately 0.4 months for each percentage point increase in junior-year unemployment rates, implying the average student delays by approximately half a semester during a typical recession. Effects are greatest for men with freshman majors in education, professional and vocational technologies, the humanities, business, and the sciences, and for women in education, the sciences, or undeclared. Delays are robust to fluctuations in students’ in-school work hours, earnings, and job market conditions. Chapter two assesses the impact of over-the-counter access to emergency contraception on women’s educational attainment using variation in access produced by state legislation since 1998. Approximately 5% of American women of reproductive age experience an unintended pregnancy annually, indicating a significant unmet need for contraception. Results indicate that cohorts with greater access to emergency contraception are more likely to graduate from high school and attain the associate’s degree. Effects for high school graduation are most pronounced among black women, while increases in associate’s degree attainment are driven primarily by white and Hispanic women. Chapter three explores the relationship between incarceration and generational inequality. Using a calibrated OLG model of criminal behavior with race, inheritance and endogenous education, I calculate how much longer prison sentences, and a higher likelihood of capture and conviction contribute to income inequality. Results indicate that changes to criminal policy mirroring those of the “tough on crime” legislation of the 1980s and 1990s, including an 18% increase in criminal apprehension and a 68% increase in prison sentence length, have little impact on inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient. Instead, the model provides evidence that these enhanced enforcement measures deter crime and decrease incarceration rates.


Inequality is an unequal rewards or opportunities for different individuals within a group or groups within a society. Education is recognised as major social institution. However, inequality in education is linked to major problems in society. In education a key factor that influences a child’s performance at school is social class. By going through Marxist and Functionalist perspectives, explanations for such inequalities can be understood.

Difference in social background results in differences in achievement within an academic field. The level of achievement of the middle class is hugely different from that of the working class. Students success depends on parents income and parental choice. In other words the higher the social class of the parents, the more successful a child is likely to become in education.

Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to have low academic status than the students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. The education system remains socially selective, the higher the social class of the parents, the better the education of the children.

Educational inequality starts young for children of disadvantaged class and they struggle to keep up throughout their school years. Children of lower socio-economic background at age 3 are one year behind the national average. By the time they are 14, they are two years behind. We can see this figure is staggering and extremely worrying. As a result, these children are less likely to go into higher education and more likely to be categorised into a lower academic ability.

The functionalist perspective on education is concerned with the functions or role of education for society as a whole. It focuses on its contribution in maintaining social stability through development of social harmony. It believe in building bridges between values and passing culture and norms through education. Functionalist views education as the basic needs for a society in order to survive. Particularly, functionalist sees education providing a trained and qualified labour force and its effective role selection and allocation in a meritocratic society.

The Marxist perspective on education highlights the way education system reproduces existing social class inequalities and how it is carried out to the next generations. Marxist argues that the values passed on by school are those of ruling class. In contrary to functionalism Marxist does not believe education system is neutral filter and grade according to meritocracy. Instead it believes social class and other factors influence success and failure in education. Marxist approach argues that there is no equality of opportunity in education, education rather covers the fact that the social class influences educational success and there is inequality

Inequality in education can put individuals of the groups that are affected by these at a disadvantage in the future. Inequality in education gap will remain because even though we are aware of it we have learnt to tolerate it.The education system reproduces existing social class inequalities, and passes them from one generation to the next. Thus we can see that children from low socio economic class lack the aspiration to excel academically. This is not because of the fault of their own but they were born into lower socio-economic class.


Maureen T. Hallinan (2006)Handbook of Sociology

K. Browne, (2006) Introducing sociology for AS Level, 2nd Edition, Cambridge, Polity Press

G. Marshall, (1994) Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 2nd edition, Oxford,

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