Education and Social Class: Highlighting How the Educational System Perpetuates Social Inequality

  • Jean-Claude CroizetEmail author
  • Frédérique Autin
  • Sébastien Goudeau
  • Medhi Marot
  • Mathias Millet


This chapter considers the idea that the educational system participates in the (re)production of social inequality. After outlining and discussing the sociological hypothesis that institutions play a role in the perpetuation of inequalities, we present social psychological research that highlights how educational settings engage students in a way that reproduces inequality in academic outcomes. We argue that education actively participates in the reproduction of inequality through a mainly symbolic process. This process involves soft coercion and relies on the implementation of a system of essentialist categories that shapes the construal of students’ academic reality. Specifically, academic achievement is understood to reveal students’ individual merit, thereby reaffirming the advantages and disadvantages related to family backgrounds that are at play in the classroom. We document this process by summarizing the results of observations and interviews conducted in preschools as well as experiments carried out in primary and secondary education. This research unveils some of the dynamics through which education, as an institution, creates the conditions for the construction, reproduction, and legitimation of the stratification of society.


Institutions Education Social class Socioeconomic status Essentialism Social comparison Merit Academic achievement Domination System justification 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Claude Croizet
    • 1
    Email author
  • Frédérique Autin
    • 2
  • Sébastien Goudeau
    • 3
  • Medhi Marot
    • 1
  • Mathias Millet
    • 4
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et Cognitive and CNRSUniversité Clermont-AuvergneClermont-FerrandFrance
  2. 2.Université de Poitiers CNRSPoitiersFrance
  3. 3.Université Paris-DescartesParisFrance
  4. 4.Université de Tours CNRSToursFrance

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