Explaining Educational Decision and Effects of Families' Social Class Position: An Empirical Test of the Breen Goldthorpe Model of Educational Attainment

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This article tests whether the Breen–Goldthorpe model offers an empirically valid prediction of educational decisions and a complete explanation of how they are affected by social class. This is done using data from a panel study of families who had decided on secondary school tracks for their children in Germany. First, we analysed whether class differences in the costs, success probabilities, and returns from status maintenance, which parents associate with educational options, are created by differences in the families’ objective opportunities and constraints. Consistent with theoretical expectations, we found class effects on the parents’ subjective beliefs and evaluations, which were due to differences in available economic resources and the children’s proven academic ability. Secondly, we tested the prediction that secondary school choice and the effect of class differences on it are the result of cost–benefit considerations. Whereas the subjective beliefs about how likely the children are to complete educational degrees and the motive to maintain the families’ social status proved to be strong predictors for educational decisions, the anticipated costs of educational investments were found to be irrelevant. Inconsistent with predictions, the direct effects of social class on educational decisions were not explained by the theoretically predicted factors.

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  • Volker Stocké

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