In this study I hypothesize a larger penalty of obesity on teacher-assessed academic performance for white girls in English, where femininity is privileged, than in math, where stereotypical femininity is perceived to be a detriment. This pattern of associations would be expected if obesity largely influences academic performance through social pathways, such as discrimination and stigma. In the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (age ~9) and the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 (age ~18), I find obesity to be associated with a penalty on academic performance among white girls in English but not in math, while no association is found in either subject for white boys or for black students net of controls. Findings suggest that the relationship between obesity and academic performance may result largely from how educational institutions interact differently with bodies of different sizes rather than primarily via constraints on physical health.
How can an organization help participants increase their social capital? Using data from an ethnographic study of Launch, an organization that prepares low-income students of color to attend elite boarding schools, I analyze how the organization’s structures not only generate social ties among students but also stratify those ties horizontally and vertically, thereby connecting students to a set of social contacts who occupy a range of hierarchical positions and who are able to provide access to resources that are beneficial in different contexts and at different times. I argue that organizational structures can function as tools for building—and embedding participants within—social networks with advantageous structural characteristics.
Today, many undergraduates are themselves raising children. But does college-going by parents improve their offspring’s educational attainment? I address this question using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth–1979 and linked Children and Young Adults Survey. I first model postnatal college enrollment and bachelor’s completion by mothers and use predicted probabilities to minimize selection bias through inverse probability of treatment weighting. I then estimate the impact of maternal college enrollment and attainment on offspring’s likelihood of graduating from high school, enrolling in college, and completing a four-year degree. I find sizeable effects of maternal college completion on all outcomes, but the impact of maternal enrollment without completion is considerably muted. I review implications for sociological research and policies to assist nontraditional students.
Increasing numbers of low-income and minority youth are now pursuing shorter-duration sub-baccalaureate credentials at for-profit trade and technical schools. However, many students drop out of these schools, leaving with large debts and few job prospects. Despite these dismal outcomes, we know very little about students’ experiences in for-profit programs and how these institutions shape postsecondary attainment. Using data from fieldwork with 150 inner-city African American youth, we examine why disadvantaged youth are attracted to these schools and why they struggle to complete certifications. In contrast to previous research, we find that the youth in our study have quite modest ambitions and look to for-profit trade schools as the quickest and most direct route to work. However, youth receive little information or guidance to support such postsecondary transitions. Therefore, the very element that makes for-profit trade school programs seem the most appealing—a curriculum focused on one particular career—becomes an obstacle when it requires youth to commit to a program of study before they have explored their interests. When youth realize they do not like or are not prepared for their chosen career, they adopt coping strategies that keep them in school but swirling between programs, rather than accumulating any credentials.
Does ‘‘choosing a home’’ still matter for ‘‘choosing a school,’’ despite implementation of school choice policies designed to weaken this link? Prior research shows how the presence of such policies does little to solve the problems of stratification and segregation associated with residentially based enrollment systems, since families differ along racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines in their access to, and how they participate in, the school choice process. We examine how families’ nearby school supply shapes and constrains their choices. Drawing on a unique dataset consisting of parents’ ranked preferences from among one urban district’s full menu of public schools, we find that Hispanic, white, and black parents share a strong preference for academic performance, but differences in their choices can be traced to variation in nearby supply. Our findings illustrate how the vastly different sets of schools from which parents can choose reproduce race-based patterns of stratification.
Why do men in the United States today complete less schooling than women? One reason may be gender differences in early self-regulation and prosocial behaviors. Scholars have found that boys’ early behavioral disadvantage predicts their lower average academic achievement during elementary school. In this study, I examine longer-term effects: Do these early behavioral differences predict boys’ lower rates of high school graduation, college enrollment and graduation, and fewer years of schooling completed in adulthood? If so, through what pathways are they linked? I leverage a nationally representative sample of children born in the 1980s to women in their early to mid-20s and followed into adulthood. I use decomposition and path analytic tools to show that boys’ higher average levels of behavior problems at age 4 to 5 years help explain the current gender gap in schooling by age 26 to 29, controlling for other observed early childhood factors. In addition, I find that early behavior problems predict outcomes more for boys than for girls. Early behavior problems matter for adult educational attainment because they tend to predict later behavior problems and lower achievement.
Education is a key sociological variable in the explanation of health and health disparities. Conventional wisdom emphasizes a life course–human capital perspective with expectations of causal effects that are quasi-linear, large in magnitude for high levels of educational attainment, and reasonably robust in the face of measured and unmeasured explanatory factors. We challenge this wisdom by offering an alternative theoretical account and an empirical investigation organized around the role of measured and unmeasured cognitive and noncognitive skills as confounders in the association between educational attainment and health. Based on longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1997 spanning mid-adolescence through early adulthood, results indicate that (1) effects of educational attainment are vulnerable to issues of omitted variable bias, (2) measured indicators of cognitive and noncognitive skills account for a significant proportion of the traditionally observed effect of educational attainment, (3) such skills have effects larger than that of even the highest levels of educational attainment when appropriate controls for unmeasured heterogeneity are incorporated, and (4) models that most stringently control for such time-stable abilities show little evidence of a substantive association between educational attainment and health.
In the half century since the 1966 Coleman Report, scholars have yet to develop a consensus regarding the relationship between schools and inequality. The Coleman Report suggested that schools play little role in generating achievement gaps, but social scientists have identified many ways in which schools provide better learning environments to advantaged children compared to disadvantaged children. As a result, a critical perspective that views schools as engines of inequality dominates contemporary sociology of education. However, an important body of empirical research challenges this critical view. To reconcile the field’s main ideas with this new evidence, we propose a refraction framework, a perspective on schools and inequality guided by the assumption that schools may shape inequalities along different dimensions in different ways. From this more balanced perspective, schools might indeed reproduce or exacerbate some inequalities, but they also might compensate for others—socioeconomic disparities in cognitive skills in particular. We conclude by discussing how the mostly critical perspective on schools and inequality is costly to the field of sociology of education.
In recent years, private for-profit education has been the fastest growing segment of the U.S. postsecondary system. Traditional hiring models suggest that employers clearly and efficiently evaluate college credentials, but this changing institutional landscape raises an important question: How do employers assess credentials from emerging institutions? Building on theories of educational authority, we hypothesize that employers respond to an associate’s degree itself over the institution from which it came. Using data from a field experiment that sent applications to administrative job openings in three major labor markets, we found that employers responded similarly to applicants listing a degree from a fictional college and applicants listing a local for-profit or nonprofit institution. There is some evidence that educational authority is incomplete, but employers who prefer degree-holders do not appear to actively evaluate institutional quality. We conclude by discussing implications of our work for research on school to labor market links within the changing higher education marketplace.
Elite universities are credited as launch points for the widest variety of meaningful careers. Yet, year after year at the most selective universities, nearly half the graduating seniors head to a surprisingly narrow band of professional options. Over the past few decades, this has largely been into the finance and consulting sectors, but increasingly it also includes high-tech firms. This study uses a cultural-organizational lens to show how student cultures and campus structures steer large portions of anxious and uncertain students into high-wealth, high-status occupational sectors. Interviewing 56 students and recent alumni at Harvard and Stanford Universities, we found that the majority of our respondents experienced confusion about career paths when first arriving at college but quickly learned what were considered to be the most prestigious options. On-campus corporate recruitment for finance, consulting, and high-tech jobs functioned as a significant driver of student perceptions of status; career prestige systems built up among peers exacerbated the funneling effect into these jobs. From these processes, students learned to draw boundaries between ‘‘high-status’’ and ‘‘ordinary’’ jobs. Our findings demonstrate how status processes on college campuses are central in generating preferences for the uppermost positions in the occupational structure and that elite campus environments have a large, independent role in the production and reproduction of social inequality.
How have U.S. high school textbook depictions of World War II and Vietnam changed since the 1970s? We examined 102 textbooks published from 1970 to 2009 to see how they treated U.S. involvement in World War II and Vietnam. Our content analysis of high school history textbooks finds that U.S. textbooks increasingly focus on the personal experiences of soldiers, rather than presenting impersonal accounts of battles, and are increasingly likely to focus on soldiers’ suffering rather than glorify combat. This shift is greater for Vietnam than for World War II. We also find increasing attention in textbooks to the fact, but not the substance, of protests against the Vietnam War. These changes provide more support for theories that view textbooks as sites of contestation or expressions of a world culture of individualism rather than purveyors of a hidden curriculum of nationalistic militarism. Future research on textbook production and comparisons of U.S. versus other countries’ textbooks might show how much of the change is particular to the United States, perhaps due to the Vietnam War, or attributable to global changes in military conscription, tolerance for casualties, and attitudes toward individual rights and group obligations.
Sociologists have focused almost exclusively on academic aspects of status in higher education, despite the prominence of nonacademic activities, specifically athletics, in U.S. colleges and universities. We use the case of football to investigate whether intercollegiate sports influence the distribution of status in U.S. higher education. Analyzing data on conference affiliations and other organizational characteristics of 287 schools over time, we find evidence of an athletic status system. Our work expands understanding of status in U.S. higher education, enriches prior explanations for the prominence of football, and generates tractable insights about the ongoing evolution of the intercollegiate conference system.
Educational systems considerably influence educational opportunities and the resulting social inequalities. Contrasting institutional regulations of both structures and contents, the authors present a typology of educational system types in Germany to analyze their effects on social inequality in eastern Germany after unification. After 1990, the comprehensive secondary school was replaced by three types of differentiated secondary schooling. In this unique field experiment of model transfer and institutional change in a federal country, reforms in these state educational systems—all originally of a uniform socialist type—led to participation rates rising to western enrollment levels, yet with substantial state-level differences. These are attributable to the divergence of educational systems reformed according to contrasting western German models. These types substantially and differentially generate intergenerational inequalities. The authors chart the sharp and significant effects of education policy reforms and societal transformation following German unification.
Although some scholars report that all students are better served by attending more prestigious postsecondary institutions, others have argued that students are better off attending colleges where they are about average in terms of academic ability and suffer worse outcomes if they attend schools that are "out of their league" at which they are "overmatched." The latter argument is most frequently deployed as a paternalistic justification for ending affirmative action. We take advantage of a natural admissions experiment at the University of California to test the effect of being overmatched for students on the margin of admission to elite universities. Consistent with the mismatch hypothesis, we find that students accumulate more credits when they attend less demanding institutions. However, students do not earn higher grades and are no more or less likely to drop out of schools where they are overmatched and are less likely to drop out than they would have been had they attended less demanding institutions.
Most studies find a positive correlation between family cultural capital and educational achievement. As compelling as the evidence on the advantages of family cultural capital for educational achievement is, most studies have focused on countries characterized by having a large middle class and high levels of income, not addressing societies with high levels of social inequality. Importantly, few studies have examined whether schools interact with families in determining the relationship between cultural capital and educational achievement. The goal of this article is to examine how cultural capital is associated with achievement in Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world. Using data from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), results from multilevel models show that the science and reading achievement gaps associated with cultural capital are magnified in Brazilian schools, an important finding given that the country is an already highly stratified society.
As the numbers of working-class students at university grow, we need to gain a better understanding of the different ways in which they consolidate their working-class habitus with the middle-class culture of the academic field. Drawing on data from a four-year longitudinal, qualitative study of working-class students at a large, research-intensive Canadian university, I focus on the experiences of those participants who fully embraced, became integrated, and achieved academic success at university. They not only spoke about gaining new knowledge, but also about growing personally, changing their outlooks on life, growing their repertoire of cultural capital, and developing new dispositions and tastes about a range of issues, from food to politics and their future careers. Yet, the interviews also reflect a complex and complicated mix of allegiances to and dismissal of their working-class roots, as many recognize this transformative process as having made relationships with parents or former friends and peers more difficult. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications for working-class students who increasingly distance themselves from the class culture in which they grew up, but who are still likely to find themselves in adult situations in which they are perceived as cultural outsiders.
Educational outcomes vary dramatically across schools in the United States. Many underperforming schools, especially in Chicago, also deal with high levels of violent crime on school grounds. Exposure to this type of frequent violence may be an important factor shaping already disadvantaged students’ educational experiences. However, estimating the effect of school violence on learning is difficult due to potential selection bias and the confounding of other school-level problems. Using detailed crime data from the Chicago Police Department, complete administrative records from the Chicago Public Schools, and school climate surveys conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research (2002-2010), this study exploits variation in violent crime rates within schools over time to estimate its effect on academic achievement. School and neighborhood fixed-effects models show that violent crime rates have a negative effect on test scores, but not on grades. This effect is more likely related to direct reductions in learning, through cognitive stress and classroom disruptions, than changes in perceived safety, general school climate, or discipline practices.