Class Gender and Educational Inequality

Year: 1986

Author: Toomey, Derek

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A recent sociological debate has asked whether the family or the individual should be considered the basic unit in the study of social stratification; a 'conventional' view focuses on the family while some feminists focus on the individual. The paper will contribute to that debate by taking up the question of family influences on children's school learning.

It will argue that the debate to date has concentrated too much upon husbands' and wives' work-force participation and ignored the home as a major site of productive labour. The home, the schooling system and the labour market/workplace are 'relatively autonomous' from each other and this causes considerable diversity within classes or strata in the supportiveness of the home environment for children's school learning. This is brought about by status inconsistency, heterogamy in respect of workforce participation, education and family background and by gender inequality; gender inequality helps reduce class inequality in the next generation. The dominant ideology of motherhood confirms and sustains these processes by emphasising the importance of the mother's availability to the child and the satisfaction of its needs. A considerable body of empirical evidence is referred to in support of the argument.

The paper shows that the attempt to define gender and class inequality as separate issues is misplaced; in the question of educational inequality, the relations between them are complex. Policy implications of these conclusions are discussed.