Expansion and inequality of educational opportunity: A comparative study

Eyal Bar Haim, Yossi Shavit

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42 Scopus citations


Educational attendance rates increased dramatically during the twentieth century, especially in the decades following World War II. In most countries for which data are available, inequality of educational opportunity between social strata declined in those decades, but stabilized thereafter. Analyzing ESS (European Social Survey) data for 24 countries and for cohorts born between the 1950s and 1970s, we study whether educational expansion affected change in equality of educational opportunity among social strata. Our results show educational expansion enhanced inequality of opportunity for tertiary education among cohorts born in the 1950s and 1970s and enhanced inequality of opportunity at the secondary level for the cohort of the 1970s. We also tested and refuted Raftery and Hout's (1993) saturation hypothesis that once the affluent strata reached universal attendance at a given level of education, its further expansion would reduce inequality among strata in the odds of its attainment. These results corroborate the hypothesis that the privileged strata are better poised the benefit from educational expansion than the sons and daughters of the lower strata. From a policy perspective, we conclude that expansion is not necessarily an effective tool for the reduction of inequality of educational opportunity. Furthermore, the perpetual expansion of education that is pursued in most countries may hinder the reduction of gaps in education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-31
Number of pages10
JournalResearch in Social Stratification and Mobility
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • CNTS
  • Comparative research
  • Educational attainment
  • Educational expansion
  • ESS
  • Social stratification


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