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Social origins, academic strength of school curriculum and access to selective higher education institutions: Evidence from Scotland and the USA

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalHigher Education
Issue number5
Early online date17 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


This paper analyses the role that different components of the academic strength of the secondary-school curriculum (i.e. number, subjects and grades of advanced academic courses) play in explaining social origin differences in access to prestigious universities (but also to other higher education institutions) in Scotland and the US. A central aim of the paper is to investigate whether the mechanism behind the studied patterns of inequality differs depending on the characteristics of each educational system. Our results show pronounced social-class gaps in entering top HE institutions in both Scotland and the US. Academic curriculum plays an important role in explaining these social class differences in both countries. However, while in Scotland type of subjects taken at an advanced level is the strongest mediator for the identified social class differences, in the US, number of advanced subjects is the strongest. Moreover, taking into account the three academic components combined entirely explain the social class differences in Scotland. Considerable inequalities which are not explained by the strength of academic curriculum remain in the US.

    Research areas

  • social inequality, HE entry, selective universities, academic school curriculum, Scotland, US

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