Social Origin and College Opportunity Expectations Across Cohorts

Publication Date:
Jan 2006
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

This study describes the trends in the effects of social origin on the college opportunity expectations of three cohorts of high school seniors (1972, 1982, and 1992). We use the type and selectivity of the college(s) to which students submit an application as a manifestation of their educational expectations, or what they perceive to be a realistic set of post-secondary educational options, and report three main patterns. First, while the influence of parents’ education and income on the likelihood of applying to any college has remained about the same across cohorts, its influence on applying to a four-year college or a selective college has increased across cohorts. Second, although young women are increasingly more likely to apply to any college or a four-year college than men, they are not more likely to apply to selective colleges. Third, although minorities are more likely to apply to college than whites, net of other factors, this advantage has decreased across cohorts. These trends suggest that social origin continues to play an important role in determining the college opportunity expectations of high school seniors. The influence of changes in the broader opportunity structure, including educational and non-educational spheres, is also discussed.


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