Education is sometimes thought of as the means of reducing structural inequalities within and across societies. Nevertheless, access to education itself can be distributed in unequal ways, contingent on the very structures it is supposed to even out. A historical perspective reveals that educational opportunities were often tailored to the social background or gender of the students. Sometimes, such differentiations have been institutionalized as parallel strands within education systems, which can result in the exclusion of certain groups from mainstream education and subsequent career opportunities. This opening panel seeks to address general questions and concepts with a view to the relationship among inequality, education and social power, such as: When and how do structures of education work in favor, and when do they work against social mobility? How are issues of inequality and education dealt with in different countries and regions, which topics are considered crucial and which actors are involved in the debate?
Conference Paper to be presented by Carlos Costa Ribeiro
Carlos A. Costa Ribeiro is Professor of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies at the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. His research focuses on the determinants of economic opportunity within and across generations.
The paper studies inequality of educational opportunity in Brazil from 1960 to 2010. Census data is used to analyze educational careers of children and youth in Brazil in this period. These five decades were characterized not only by an enormous expansion of the educational system, but also by major social changes in terms of urbanization and industrialization. While in 1960 55 percent of the population lived in rural areas, in 2010 only 15 percent were in the countryside. From 1960 to 1980, the country’s economy grew extremely fast mainly because of industrialization and the expansion of service sectors in the economy. This period was also one of increasing income inequality. In contrast, from 1990 to 2010, the country’s economy grew at a slower pace, but income inequality decreased. The data analyzed indicates that social background inequality in terms of parental income and schooling decreased for offspring entering and completing primary education, remained constant for those entering and completing secondary education, and increased for those entering college. Gender and racial inequality in educational transitions decreased throughout the period. These trends culminated in a very large expansion of youth attending college. Therefore, I also present some analyses of horizontal stratification on the university level in terms of fields of specialization. The data on completion of college for different professions is analyzed in terms of income returns, gender, and race. The analyses indicate changes and continuities in horizontal stratification among people with credentials in different careers. In particular, gender inequality in labor market returns on tertiary education decreased significantly, while racial inequality remained very high.