Dynamics of Social Inequalities in French Higher Education
The role of socio economic background in school attainment is a central issue. Most studies conclude that if socioeconomic background is still strongly associated with school attainment, this association has rather declined among cohorts, including for higher degrees. Opponents of the decline of educational inequalities put forward two arguments. They first argue that decline of social differences in higher degree's completion rate are mainly due to «first cycle» diplomas. They also claim that inequalities in education might be maintained through horizontal educational choices: as higher education expanded, school level achieved became less and less an issue, and the very precise nature of the diploma became more and more important. We use data from the French Labour Force Survey collected from 1990 to 2002 to study changes in education stratification among cohorts. Our first concern is to determine whether social inequalities have more decreased among students at lower degree levels than among those holding a higher degree. Thanks to a simulation approach, we conclude that social differences in completion rates have evenly decreased when measured at different degrees of higher education. Measuring social inequalities for constant selectivity (and not for constant diplomas)confirms that social inequalities in higher education have decreased as well. Nevertheless, our results show that the decrease of social disparities among higher education completion rates has been less pronounced than the decrease of social disparities among secondary education completion rates. Our second concern is to determine if social polarization of different fields of studies within higher education has increased. Our results are that women's choices regarding higher education field have become more and more socially stratified, especially in the recent cohorts, when higher education has widely opened up. In the meantime, we do not observe any significant rise for men.