Transition to Higher Education and Social Capital Inequality

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:36
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Gina LAI, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Social network researchers argue that unequal access to social capital is a major factor of social mobility. School as an important social organization provides the platform for one to establish social ties and through these ties, social capital can be accumulated and activated for instrumental purposes. However, the production of social capital inequality in the school setting is little understood. Further, researchers have observed that educational expansion has changed the form of educational inequality from qualitative differentiation (types and prestige of educational institutions) to quantitative differentiation (educational level) and social inequality is maintained as a result. The impact of horizontal educational stratification on social capital inequality thus deserves an investigation.

Data for analyses come from a panel study of high school students randomly drawn from urban Nanjing in 2010. The analytic sample consists of 667 students who attended university in China in 2013. Access to social capital is indicated by the individual’s links to a selection of occupations with varying levels of occupational prestige through school peers, friends, and acquaintances. Social capital reported in 2010 and 2013 are compared. Respondents report a decline in social capital after entering university, particularly non-elite institutions. Students from better family backgrounds tend to attend elite universities and have greater access to social capital, but suffer a greater loss of social capital when they enter non-elite universities. No significant difference in change of social capital by family background is found for students attending elite universities. These findings suggest that while mass education may help increase the social mix on campus, horizontal educational stratification helps maintain the social capital advantage of socioeconomically advantaged students. Further, even when the disadvantaged groups enter elite institutions, there are factors other than contact opportunities hindering them from social capital accumulation. Implications of the findings for social mobility will be discussed.