Inequality in school results because of the family – Raymond Boudon

Raymond Boudon (1934–2013) is a great representative of French sociology of the past and current century. His studies led him to focus on the inequalities between different individuals according to their environment.

In his bookInequality of Opportunity, page 96, Raymond Boudon notes an undeniable causality between a child’s educational results and his family. To support this observation, Raymond Boudon uses a study conducted by Girard and Clerc in 1964. We suggest you follow the reasoning below.

The explanation of inequalities in education based on differences in the value of the cultural capital transmitted to the child by his or her family is a familiar theme today, and it is unnecessary to insist on it at length.

The importance of this factor is attested to by numerous studies. Here, by way of example, is a table borrowed from Girard and Clerc (1964). This table is taken from a survey of a sample of nearly 21,000 French children who, in June 1962, had reached the end of the last year of primary school (cours moyen, second grade). It shows that the higher the family’s, and therefore the child’s, social standing, the higher the academic value of the children as assessed by the teacher (Table 2.1).

The same study also shows that, especially at a young age, school success varies, at equal income levels, with the cultural level of the parents, as measured by the highest degree held by either parent. This result clearly indicates the influence of cultural heritage on a child’s educational success. More precisely, it shows that the family’s cultural level must be considered as an essential dimension of the family’s social status when explaining the relationship (at a young age) between the child’s school success and the family’s social status.

It is important to note, however, that as we consider older children or adolescents, we find, according to Girard and Clerc, a reversal of this relationship: thus, in the case of adolescents who have reached the final years of secondary education, the relationship between parental income and children’s educational success, given the same level of parental education, appears to be significant. On the other hand, the relationship between parents’ qualifications and children’s educational success, given equal parental income, is weak. We shall see later how this result can be interpreted.

Raymond Boudon, Inequality of Opportunity, Part2 II, 1973

It is not a question of interpreting Raymond Boudon’s thinking too quickly, simply on the basis of these extracts, which, as Raymond Boudon indicates, call for an interpretation. Rather, one must understand these excerpts in the totality of the original work, and see, for example, one of the conclusions, the second one, that Raymond Boudon draws at the end of The Inequality of Opportunities:

“Differences in the quality of cultural inheritance as a function of social class explain only to a very limited extent the inequality of opportunity before education. They explain the differences in school success according to social origin at a young age. On the other hand, they hardly explain the discrepancies in educational attainment according to social origin.”

Raymond Boudon, Inequality of Opportunity, Conclusion, 1973

Economics/sociology courses on School/Education:

  • Socio-professional categories and school results
  • Analysis of the link between democracy and the study of science – Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Inequality of school results because of the family – Raymond Boudon

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General Knowledge: Inequalities