9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS15 Rethinking intergenerational transmission of inequalities

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Changing Patterns of Inequalities Building II, C6.09

Puzzles and evidence on the transmission of social inequality across generations: Parenting, emotional support and educational values

Family background and context remain fundamentally important in the generational transmission of inequalities. Much research has been heavily influenced by Bourdieu and cultural capital theory, with particular interest in the link between parenting practices and values and children's life chances. Quantitative evidence across Europe reveals the ongoing salience of class, and also the importance of cross cutting factors, including diversity in parenting values and practices (e.g. Barone 2006). Internal family processes remain something of a black box. In contrast qualitative research "gets inside" families. Many here argue that middle class advantage and working class constraint are reproduced across generations due to parental values and practices which are, in turn, embedded in unequal social structural circumstances. The conclusions of the qualitative research are not straightforwardly compatible with the quantitative evidence, so whilst insightful there remain gaps in explanation. One strategy to help address this gap is to more adequately locate qualitative evidence in respect of general processes. In turn this requires that we more fully address internal class diversity and complexity.

The research reports early findings from a study of family contexts, parenting and class, run as part of the UK's ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. This comprised a survey of parents and a series of follow up in-depth qualitative interviews. Interviewees were strategically identified with reference to class and to their subjective views about the importance of education to children, and if this has changed over time. This allowed us to locate our qualitative sample with reference to key societal processes, and to tap into internal class complexity, as well as cross class diversity. For example, it very effectively identified people in the same broad class categories who held widely divergent perceptions of how to best influence their children's lives. We offer an analysis of parents' accounts of what is important to them in bringing up children, and explore the articulation of emotional support and educational values in these accounts. The evidence provides new insights into class complexity. Understanding this complexity is crucial to more adequately theorising unequal social contexts and the transmission of inequalities across generations.