Meritocracy, Human Capital or Social Reproduction? Outcomes of Educational Pathways in Canada
- Liberal theory, which posits that pathways support upward social mobility and provide opportunity. This is the meritocracy thesis in which those who work hard and have ability can progress to higher level credentials and the opportunities that this brings in the labour market;
- Human capital theory, which sees pathways as the way individuals can make rational decisions about how to invest in their human capital to support their occupational pathways;
- Social reproduction theorists who argue that pathways can challenge unequal power relations by challenging intrinsically unfair structures of education and hegemonic power relations;
- An alternative ‘reading’ of social reproduction theory could be that pathways contribute to existing hierarchies by providing limited opportunities for social mobility, and at the same time contributing to the hegemonic notion of the meritocracy.
This paper uses Canada as a case study to explore these alternatives. It uses data from the 2011 Canadian National Household Survey to compare the occupational destinations, job skill level and income decile of graduates with college credentials, with both college and university credentials, and with university only credentials. It finds that pathways support modest social mobility, and that the labour market outcomes for those with both college and university credentials are higher than those with college credentials, but lower for those with university credentials. It suggests that pathways make a difference in people’s lives, but that they do not necessarily challenge elite and stratified hierarchies in higher education or the labour market.