Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Studies in social stratification have revealed various ways in which social institutions reward and privilege middle- and upper-class individuals, while marginalizing and penalizing poor and working-class individuals. Yet, we know relatively little about the process by which social institutions are molded to serve the interests of middle-class and affluent individuals, and how biases in favor of these groups persist in the face of efforts to make schools, workplaces, and other institutions more equitable. There is perhaps no better context in which to examine this process than contemporary China, which has recently witnessed the emergence of a sizeable middle class as well as a new class of extremely wealthy families and the concomitant rise of structures to serve the interests of these groups. My work focuses on the maintenance of family privilege across generations, through education.
Relative to the United States, several features of China’s educational system limit the extent to which parents can influence children’s progress in school. However, in the wake of market reforms introduced in China in the late twentieth century that created new opportunities to accrue wealth, tensions have emerged between equalizing features of the educational system and the new middle and affluent classes’ desire to ensure their children remain near the top of the social hierarchy. In my dissertation, I engage in statistical analysis of a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of Chinese middle school students and their families – the China Education Panel Survey – to reveal three ways in which the emerging middle and affluent classes are pushing back against equalizing features of the educational system to give their children a “boost” in the competition for educational credentials. By shedding light on the creative responses of privileged families when faced with barriers to the intergenerational transmission of advantage, the dissertation contributes an understanding of how social inequality is able to persist across various contexts and time periods. Moreover, it disrupts the view of middle- and upper-class families as in compliance with the “rules of the game” set by social institutions and instead highlights how these actors may struggle against the rules, potentially transforming them in the process.
Young, Natalie, "Skirting The Rules Of The Game: Educational Strategies Of Socioeconomically Advantaged Families In Post-Reform China" (2019). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 3427.