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Family Educational Background Enhances Class Stratification

Social class and social stratification are highly linked to the unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and especially education opportunities. This can potentially form a cycle, where richer people get richer and vice versa, known as the Matthew Effect (Wang). As a result of such cycle, people from lower class have relatively less educational opportunities than people from the middle and upper class, and it has a negative effect on the society as talented people are frequently unable to accept higher education. Class stratification is formed through different factors, as it is a “social closure through which the individuals who occupy specific class situations are tied into broad social aggregates” (Scott). Different class-forming factors act together to form and reinforce social closure, and this further enhances class stratification in society. Education plays a great role; it is crucial to good life chances in the future because professional skills from education lead to better job opportunities. People with higher education tend to gain higher social and economic status in their adulthood, so education background is directly correlated to social stratification. On top of that, education opportunities are directly influenced by family factors, and in the future “education will lose its role as a social leveler and a safety valve that enables talented but poor youths to escape poverty” (Wang) in many Asian developing countries including China. In these developing countries, the social and economic gap between classes is enormous, and the influence of family educational background has a huge impact on the future of the students, which further enhances the idea of class stratification as a whole. Family background in education significantly enhances class stratification in developing countries in Asia, and they are one of the strongest forming factors of class stratification. Different aspects of family educational background work together to consolidate class stratification, especially in the aspects of biological background, financial affordability, family structure, family values, and family resources.

       Some biological factors have defining influence on one’s educational opportunities, and hence it directly strengthens stratification in the society. People are born with different talents and different intellectual levels, and it is believed that education would cause people to “reach their inherited ceiling of performance”, and there is no remedy for this (Commons). For example, in one research, the twin with more potential ended up achieving more academically even though he received the same education as his twin brother. Genes are unchangeable factors, and they determine one’s educational outcome as there are certain limitations in education. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a direct correlation between one’s intellectual level and his or her future, but the family and biological factor behind this phenomenon definitely plays an important role in potentially affecting social stratification. Besides such unchangeable factors, however, there are other aspects of family educational background that greatly affects stratification.

       A major factor that defines one’s social class is economic capital, and people often use this to determine a family’s class. Family affordability in education is crucial in determining the future job opportunities and life chances of the education receivers, and thus it has a great influence on class stratification in the bigger picture. In developing countries in Asia, there are huge gaps between classes, and these gaps in family wealth and affordability are crucial in consolidating class structures. It is claimed that middle class and upper-class families in Asia are able to “afford better private schools”, and usually they have access to more educational resources (Reardon). Being able to afford better education means that children in wealthier families are more likely to succeed in the future. On top of that, more affluent families are investing more in their kids’ education, especially at earlier periods in their children’s lives, comparing to “hard-pressed low-income and middle-class families” (Reardon). Doing so secures their places in the upper class and the greater gap between the upper class and the lower class emerges. Such a phenomenon also applies in the Indian caste context, because the middle-class families’ affordability allows them to invest more time, energy and money in educating their children. As a result, children from such families have an apparent advantage over those from lower classes who do not have the family educational affordability (Rao). Higher education requires higher costs, and people from better-off families are able to afford such education while others don’t because of the affordability issue.

       Even though family structure and size may seem minimal in affecting class stratification, they have a huge influence on children’s educational outcome, and thus directly prevent social mobility. Family structures such as single parenthood and number of siblings are great examples. Various research shows some negative effects of “single parenthood on children’s educational outcomes ranging from a greater probability of school drop-out to lower achievement” (Buchmann). The number of siblings in developing countries in Asia is also shown to be defining factors of one’s educational outcome. According to the “resource dilution hypothesis”, material resources like tuition payment and parental attention are distracted with more children in the family (Buchman). In some Asian developing countries, including “Thailand, Malaysia, and the Dominican Republic and the Philippines”, it is shown that there are apparent negative correlations between family size and educational outcome (Buchmann).

       Different kinds of family resources, including social and economic resource also directly link to the consolidation of class stratification, as the unequal distribution of such resources ends up affecting the class structures. For instance, social resources including family’s social interaction and its geographic location play important roles in education. Research shows that “people live in neighborhoods they can afford” and they often go to schools in this region; as a result, “schools reflect the wealth of the neighborhood” (Mostafa). Consequently, “children go to schools with similar peers” who have the “similar amount of family resources” (Mostafa). Because of this phenomenon, people end up staying in their social class as they interact with people from a similar class. Moreover, parents’ educational resources are significant in shaping social stratification as well. According to research on parents’ educational background and children’s educational outcome, “parents’ cultural level has proved to affect children’s educational development and expectations” (Jacinto). For example, the frequency of reading newspaper in one’s household is a good indicator for a family’s cultural capital, and the future job opportunities of the children are directly reflected by habits like this (Jacinto). With more resources in the family, children are able to be exposed to a better environment and achieve better goals. According to a related survey, “the number of books available at home remarkably differs on the ground of the different educational levels” (Jacinto). Parents with University degrees tend to possess more books in their household than the ones who don’t. Children from families with more domestic resources find it easier to obtain knowledge on a daily basis, and in their future, they generally possess better life chances. Consequently, family resources also greatly affect social stratification.

       Even though the influence of family affordability, family structure and resources could be minimized by certain education policies that target the disadvantaged social groups, the influence family values have on education and its impact on social stratification can never be demolished. Middle-class families and wealthy families in these developing countries in Asia tend to value education greatly, and they invest a lot more time and money in education than lower class families. Research has shown that “appropriate family environment usually generates equally appropriate attitudes towards education and associates skills” (Jacinto). Attitudes are essential as they affect parents’ decisions on their children’s education investments, and people with better attitudes invest more in education, with their children end up with better futures. Interestingly, in some countries, people tend to value education as a result of their history and norms. For example, “people in China have used education to boost their social standing and economic status for centuries” with the belief that “knowledge can change fate” (Wang). Attitudes and values toward education vary among nations, and within the nations, they also vary among different classes. There is a direct correlation between class and value, and it further contributes to class stratification as people from the upper and the middle class are more likely to invest more in education because of their attitudes toward education.

       The strong connection between family educational background and social stratification is not great news for everyone. For people from the lower class, it means it is hard for them to improve their life chances by simply gaining knowledge. Fortunately, there are rising policies in Asian developing countries targeting disadvantaged students. For instance, the Chinese nine-year-compulsory education system aims to provide equal education opportunities for everyone. However, even though affordability can be minimized by free education opportunities in these Asian developing countries, family values and family resources still play very important roles in enhancing stratification. The influence of family educational background is never diminished, and the class forming cycle goes on and on. To truly eradicate or at least minimize the negative effects of this problem of family factors leading to social stratification, people need to start from family units and make sure parents value education themselves and are being the best teachers no matter rich or poor. Good family education is able to counteract with the disadvantages, and it is a lot more effective than the general educational policies because the influence is a lot more profound and long-lasting. It is obvious that family educational background is crucial for students’ future, and good family education is the best solution to the social problems, and it can greatly affect the bigger social picture: class stratification and social mobility.


Published by Sunny

I am a high school rising sophomore and I love to read and write.

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