Sociological Perspectives on First-Generation College Students

  • Irenee R. BeattieEmail author
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


First-generation college students (FGS)—postsecondary students whose parents did not complete college degrees—are a theoretically critical group for understanding social inequality in higher education and processes of social mobility. They are successful in navigating into higher education institutions in spite of a lack of parental experience, and may derive particular benefits from their social origins in terms of motivation and novel sources of support. However, college experiences can prove challenging for FGS due to more limited social and cultural capital. Sociologists have arrived relatively late to the study of this group. I argue that sociological perspectives can add to our understanding of FGS by investigating the ways that first-generation status intersects with other dimensions of identity and experience (race/ethnicity, gender, social class, sexuality, immigration status, etc.). Sociological insight can also further develop understandings of how institutional variation as well as institutional neglect and abuse shape FGS experiences and outcomes.


First generation college students Higher education Social mobility Social class Cultural capital Social capital Intersectionality Institutional analysis Postsecondary students 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaMercedUSA

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