Parental social class and GCSE attainment: Re-reading the role of ‘cultural capital’

Sarah Stopforth*, Vernon Gayle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the roles of parental social class and cultural capital in inequalities in English school qualifications. The analytical focus is the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Integral to Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction is the conception that inequalities in cultural capital explain the unequal scholastic achievements of pupils from different social class backgrounds. This paper is a novel investigation using data from Understanding Society and linked administrative education records from the National Pupil Database. The central empirical findings do not support the Bourdiuesian position, and there is no evidence that the substantial parental social class inequalities that are observed in school GCSE outcomes can be explained by inequalities in cultural capital. Engagement in reading related activities are mildly influential, but engagement in highbrow cultural activities are not influential. This is an important finding as the concept of cultural capital has become more prominent in Government education policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)680-699
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Issue number5
Early online date13 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2022


  • cultural capital
  • GCSEs
  • inequalities
  • NS-SEC
  • social class
  • understanding society


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