Are socioeconomic inequalities in education declining? Is socioeconomic background becoming less important for people’s occupational class or status? How important is cognitive ability for education and later occupational outcomes? How do countries differ in the importance of socioeconomic background for education and work?
Gary N. Marks argues that in western industrialized countries, pervasive views that socioeconomic background (or class background) has strong and unchanging relationships with education and later socioeconomic outcomes, resistant to policy and social change, are unfounded. Marks provides a large amount of evidence from many countries showing that the influence of socioeconomic background for education is moderate and most often declining, and socioeconomic background has only very weak impacts on adults’ occupation and earnings after taking into account education and cognitive ability.
Furthermore, Marks shows that cognitive ability is a more powerful influence than socioeconomic background for educational outcomes, and that in addition to its indirect effects through education has a direct effect on occupation and earnings. Its effects cannot be dismissed as simply another aspect of socioeconomic background, nor do the usual criticisms of ‘cognitive ability’ apply. The declining effects for socioeconomic background and the importance of cognitive ability support several of the contentions of modernization theory.
The book contributes to a variety of debates within sociology: quantitative and qualitative approaches, explanatory and non-explanatory theory, the relationship between theory and empirical research, the role of political ideology in research, sociology as a social science, and sociology’s contribution to knowledge about contemporary societies. It will appeal to professionals in the fields of education and sociology as well as postgraduate students and academics involved in the debate.
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Gary N. Marks is a Principal Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, the University of Melbourne, Australia.Review:
'I think that this is an interesting and provocative book that will contribute to the wide debate about the extent, the sources and the mechanisms of reproduction of social inequalities. In my view, its main virtue is to show the increasing importance of cognitive ability in affecting relevant individual educational and occupational outcomes. Moreover, it correctly highlights that the estimates of socio-economic background differentials in traditional studies – which do not account for cognitive abilities – may be overestimated.' - Moris Triventi, European University Institute, Sociologica, January 2016
'This book is recommended to students and professionals in sociology and more widely in economics, education and psychology. This text provides a real opportunity for researchers to question their theoretical beliefs and their perspectives in the interpretation of research evidence. This book has the capacity to challenge our thinking on the nature and mechanisms of social inequality.' – Roxanne Connelly, University of Edinburgh, UK
'Marks makes a strong case for the dominant and increasingly dominant role of achievement in the allocation process. This argument does not mean that this trend will inexorably continue, that ascription does not condition chances for achievement, or that there are no persisting and significant inequities. Gender? Race? Yet to those who deny the relatively large impact of achievement and the "decline of the social," the gauntlet is down.’ – Paul W. Kingston, American Journal of Sociology, USA
‘This book is a truly comprehensive addition to contemporary sociological opinion. As well as deepening considerations regarding the complex relationship of social background, cognitive ability and improved outcomes, Marks’ purposeful narration guides the reader through the thorny complexity of several other key sociological debates, including the role of quantitative and qualitative research, explanatory and non-explanatory theory and political ideology in research.’ – Claire Forbes, LSE Book Review, UK
"For students, particularly those studying for higher degrees, this book is an invaluable source of data extracted from numerous empirical studies and will support the study of a number of educational themes. By negotiating their way through the data presented in the book readers will be rewarded with ample opportunities to broaden their understanding and challenge their thinking in this important aspect of social inequality." – Clare Bright, Newman University
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