Inequalities in access to higher education in France. Cumulative advantage and compensatory advantage over the course of secondary education (original paper in French)

Author: Estelle Herbaut

With the prolonging of education, social inequalities in access to higher education have become a major concern in research on social stratification. This article provides an empirical description of how inequalities develop throughout secondary education with a view to explaining inequalities in access to higher education (he) in France. Based on the 1995 statistical sample of secondary school students, it estimates that inequalities in access to he are 81% the result of inequalities in attainment of the baccalauréat [end of high school diploma]. Confirming the cumulative aspect to education, the accumulation of negative academic results at secondary level strongly contributes to the under-representation of disadvantaged students among those who obtain their baccalauréat. The data also show that the educational careers of students with similar initial academic difficulties differ considerably according to their parents’ level of education, confirming the hypothesis of compensatory advantage. Conversely, a reinforcement effect, leading to divergent educational careers among good students and depending on social background, is also highlighted where access to prestigious he tracks is concerned, further substantiating the hypothesis of compensatory advantage. These results underline the importance of considering interactions between school performance and social background in order to understand how inequalities develop throughout education.

Full citation: Herbaut, E. (2019). Les inégalités d’accès à l’enseignement supérieur français: Avantages cumulatif et compensatoire au cours de l’enseignement secondaire. Revue française de sociologie, vol. 60(4), 535-566. doi:10.3917/rfs.604.0535.