Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education
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Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education

Edited by Rolf Becker

Presenting original contributions from the key experts in the field, the Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education explores the major theoretical, methodological, empirical and political challenges and pressing social questions facing education in current times.
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Chapter 17: Vertical and horizontal stratification in higher education

David Reimer and Jens-Peter Thomsen


In this chapter, we will present and discuss the literature on stratification in higher education, dealing in particular with horizontal stratification and inequality of access to different higher education institutions and fields of study. We begin by outlining the theoretical framework normally used to explain the association between socioeconomic background and higher education. We then discuss the role of institutional stratification, looking at differences between university colleges, universities, and undergraduate and graduate degrees. In this section, we also explore the role played by admission procedures. Next, we review the literature on students’ choice of field of study in higher education before examining processes of cultural differentiation among higher education students. This is followed by an example of institutional and field of study differentiation, after which we review and discuss the impact of field of study choice on labour market outcomes. Finally, we summarize the major points from the chapter and point to possible avenues for future research.

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