Higher Education

, 59:115 | Cite as

Socio-economic status, cultural diversity and the aspirations of secondary students in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, Australia

  • Mark P. BowdenEmail author
  • James Doughney


Using data from a recent survey of Australian secondary students, we find that those from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to aspire to attend university. The same can be said for students who do not speak English at home. We find that students with an ethnic minority background are more likely to perceive higher levels of support from parents. However, we find that all students believe they receive encouragement from their parents to do well at school (rather than discouragement or disinterest), and that there is little difference in the level of importance placed on the views of parents between students from English and non-English speaking background. While interest in university education is strong across all socio-economic groups, particularly for students who do not speak English at home, there is a considerable gap between aspirations and enrolment levels. We suggest that this ‘aspirations gap’ is larger for students from low socio-economic backgrounds. This analysis also supports growing evidence that the postcode methodology for allocating socio-economic status to individuals is unreliable.


Aspirations Higher education Inequality Socio-economic status Ethnic background 



The Aspirations Online research project was sponsored by the former Equity and Social Justice Branch at Victoria University. A number of colleagues have worked on aspects of this project. In particular we would like to thank Dr Jo Vu, School of Economics and Finance, Victoria University and Denise Bett, Manager of the former Equity and Social Justice Branch, Victoria University and leader of the Aspirations Online Project Team. We would also like to thank Kate O’Rourke, Kathryn O’Rourke, Katia Honour, and Peter O’Callaghan for their contributions to the Aspirations Project. Finally we wish to thank the anonymous referees for their useful comments. All errors and omissions remain our own.


  1. Allen, A. (1997). What are ethnic minorities looking for? In T. Modood & T. Acland (Eds.), Race and higher education: Experiences, challenges and policy implications (pp. 51–73). Great Britain: Policy Studies Institute.Google Scholar
  2. Archer, M. (1995). Realist social theory: The morphogenetic approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). Census of population and housing: Socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA). Australia 2006, Cat. no. 2033.0.55.001.Google Scholar
  4. Ball, S. J., Reay, D., & David, M. (2002). ‘Ethnic choosing’: Minority ethnic students, social class and higher education choice. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 5(4), 333–357. doi: 10.1080/1361332022000030879.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benjaminsen, L. (2003). Causality and sociological models: On relational structures and cognitive rationality. 6th ESA Conference Murcia 2003.
  6. Bernstein, B. (1977). Class, codes and control. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  7. Boudon, R. (1974). Education, opportunities, and social inequality; changing prospects in Western society. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction, in knowledge, education, cultural change. In R. Brown (Ed.), Knowledge, education and cultural change (pp. 71–112). London: Tavistock Publications Limited.Google Scholar
  9. Brennan, J., & Osborne, M. (2008). Higher education’s many diversities: Of students, institutions and experiences; and outcomes? Research Papers in Education, 23(2), 179–190. doi: 10.1080/02671520802048711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cardak, B. A., & Ryan, C. (2006). Why are high-ability individuals from poor backgrounds under-represented at university? Social Science Research Network,
  11. Coates, H., & Krause, K. (2005). Investigating ten years of equity policy in Australian higher education. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 27(1), 35–47. doi: 10.1080/13600800500045810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Croll, P. (2008). Occupational choice, socio-economic status and educational attainment: A study of the occupational choices and destinations of young people in the British household panel survey. Research Papers in Education, 23(3), 243–268. doi: 10.1080/02671520701755424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Croziera, G., Reay, D., Clayton, J., Colliander, L., & Grinsteadc, J. (2008). Different strokes for different folks: Diverse students in diverse institutions—experiences of higher education. Research Papers in Education, 23(2), 167–177. doi: 10.1080/02671520802048703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. (2008). On-track: Keeping young people’s futures on track. Online access
  15. Foley, P. (2007). The socio-economic status of vocational education and training students in Australia. Adelaide: National Centre for Vocational Education Research.Google Scholar
  16. Hallinan, M. T., & Williams, R. A. (1990). Students’ characteristics and the peer-influence process. Sociology of Education, 63(2), 122–132. doi: 10.2307/2112858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hernandez-Martinez, P., Black, L., Williams, J., Davis, P., Pampaka, M., & Wake, G. (2008). Mathematics students’ aspirations for higher education: Class, ethnicity, gender and interpretative repertoire styles. Research Papers in Education, 23(2), 153–165. doi: 10.1080/02671520802048687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. James, R. (2002). Socioeconomic background and higher education participation: An analysis of school students’ aspirations and expectations. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.Google Scholar
  19. Jaoul-Grammare, M. (2007). Social attributes, equity and higher educative path. Microeconometric study of a discrete choice model with logistic regression. Applied Economics Letters, 14(4), 287–291. doi: 10.1080/13504850500401601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jones, R. G. (2001). Identifying higher education students from low socio-economic status backgrounds and regional and remote areas. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.
  21. Kao, G., & Thompson, J. S. (2003). Racial and ethnic stratification in educational achievement and attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 417–442. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kao, G., & Tienda, M. (1998). Educational aspirations of minority youth. American Journal of Education, 106(3), 349–384. doi: 10.1086/444188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Marjoribanks, K. (1991). Ethnicity, family environment and social-status attainment: A follow-up analysis. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 22(1), 15–23.Google Scholar
  24. Marks, G. N., Cresswell, J., & Ainley, J. (2006). Explaining socioeconomic inequalities in student achievement: The role of home and school factors. Educational Research and Evaluation, 12(2), 105–128. doi: 10.1080/13803610600587040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Martin, L. M. (1994). Equity and general performance indicators in higher education. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.Google Scholar
  26. McMillan, J., & Western, J. (2000). Measurement of the socio-economic status of Australian higher education students. Higher Education, 39, 223–248. doi: 10.1023/A:1003943824357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Modood, T. (2006). Ethnicity, Muslims and higher education entry in Britain. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(2), 247–250. doi: 10.1080/13562510500527826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Osler, A. (1999). The educational experiences and career aspirations of black and ethnic minority undergraduates. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 2(1), 39–58. doi: 10.1080/1361332990020104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schneider, B., & Stevenson, D. (1999). The ambitious generation. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Seyfrit, C. L., Hamilton, L. C., Duncan, C. M., & Grimes, J. (1998). Ethnic identity and aspirations among rural Alaska youth. Sociological Perspectives, 41(2), 343–365.Google Scholar
  31. Taylor, A., & Krahn, H. (2005). Resilient teenagers: Explaining the high educational aspirations of visible minority immigrant youth in Canada. Journal of International Migration and Immigration, 6(3), 405–434.Google Scholar
  32. Teese, R. (2000). Academic success and social power: Examinations and inequality. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Economics and Finance, Footscray Park CampusVictoria UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations