In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks and Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Expansion
  • Educational Stratification and Mobility
  • Gender
  • Segregation
  • School Resource Inequality
  • School Sector
  • Schools as Organizations
  • Teaching as a Profession
  • Educational Reform

Sociology Education
Kristin Jordan, Jennifer C. Lee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0016


Sociology of education includes the study of all aspects of education ranging from the organization of schools themselves to the determinants and consequences of schooling. Sociologists of education focus on the structure, processes, and interaction patterns within the institution of education and their relationships to society and individuals. Sociologists studying education believe that through the application of scientific theory and strong empirical research, schools can be improved. Thus, much research within sociology of education has paid attention to social inequalities related to the formal education system: inequality in access, opportunity, and outcomes. On a macro level, researchers have been concerned with societal forces that shape schools as organizations. On a micro level, scholars have examined the relationship between schooling and individual outcomes and how individual and structural factors influence educational achievement and attainment. Sociology of education has its roots in the writings of Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. In his works on education and sociology, Durkheim applied a sociological approach to understanding educational systems, emphasizing the relationship between educational institutions and the larger society. Weber’s writings on bureaucracy were influential for the analysis of schools as organizations, and his ideas of status groups serve as a foundation for the examination of education and social reproduction. The status attainment model (Blau and Duncan 1967; Sewell, et al. 1969, both cited under Educational Stratification and Mobility) has also been influential in the sociology of education, laying the groundwork for a large and systematic program of research focused on examining the role of education in social stratification and mobility.

General Overviews

These cited articles represent reviews of past research in sociology of and stress directions for future research. Downey, et al. 2004 and Kingston, et al. 2003 address the broad, underlying question of most research in the field: Does education matter? Whereas the former shows the ways in which schooling is able to attenuate the effects of social origins, the latter contributes to our understanding of education’s consequences for a variety of social outcomes. Research in the sociology of education also has the potential for contributions beyond the discipline. Dika and Singh 2002 explores the ways in which social capital research has reached other educational researchers and policymakers, whereas Reynolds and Ross 1998 represents the potential for extending sociology of education research beyond the usual outcomes to include the effects of education on physical and psychological well-being. The remaining articles highlight prominent areas of research in sociology of education, including education stratification, qualitative methods, and the critical perspective. With a look toward the future (Gamoran 2001) and an examination of the past (Hallinan 1988), two scholars examine the causes and consequences of educational stratification. Riehl 2001 reviews the often-overlooked contributions that qualitative research makes across subfields in the sociology of education, particularly in the rich, contextualized understandings of schools that such research produces. Finally, Davies 1995 represents the critical perspective in examining paradigm shifts within the field.

  • Davies, Scott. 1995. Leaps of faith: Shifting currents in the critical sociology of education. American Journal of Sociology 100:1448–1478.

    DOI: 10.1086/230668

    Davies explores the rift between “critical” and “mainstream/positivist” approaches in the sociology education, concluding that they actually are not that different in terms of methods or praxis, but rather in interpretation. In doing so, he traces the history of various paradigm shifts in the sociology of education.

  • Dika, Sandra L., and Kusum Singh. 2002. Applications of social capital in educational literature: A critical synthesis. Review of Educational Research 72:31–60.

    DOI: 10.3102/00346543072001031

    A critical review of theory and research on social capital and its relationship to educational outcomes, this article notes gaps in the literature and future lines of research as well as the benefits and drawbacks of exporting social capital theory to educational researchers outside of sociology as well as to policymakers.

  • Downey, Douglas B., Paul T. von Hippel, and Beckett A. Broh. 2004. Are schools the great equalizer? Cognitive inequality during the summer months and the school year. American Sociological Review 69:613–635.

    DOI: 10.1177/000312240406900501

    This article includes a comprehensive review of the school effects literature as well as original analyses to address the way in which social origins produce and reproduce achievement gaps across race and class lines. The research suggests that, with the exception of the black/white achievement gap, schools do mitigate the effects of social origins.

  • Gamoran, Adam. 2001. American schooling and educational inequality: A forecast for the 21st century. In Special issue: Current of thought: Sociology of education at the dawn of the 21st century. Edited by Aaron M. Pallas. Sociology of Education 74:135–153.

    Reviewing the literature on educational inequality, Gamoran demonstrates the relative stability of schooling, in terms of structure and processes, throughout the 20th century. As a result of this stability, which we can assume will continue into the 21st century, he predicts that racial inequality in education will continue to decline while socioeconomic inequality will persist.

  • Hallinan, Maureen T. 1988. Equality of educational opportunity. Annual Review of Sociology 14:249–268.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Hallinan reviews the empirical research that emerged in the 1960s through the 1980s and brought education research to the fore of sociology. This research is primarily concerned with questions of equality of access and outcome. The former is based on ideals of meritocracy; the latter is based on the assumption that meritocracy is not possible, and therefore outcomes must be equalized and redistributed.

  • Kingston, Paul W., Ryan Hubbard, Brent Lapp, Paul Schroeder, and Julia Wilson. 2003. Why education matters. Sociology of Education 76:53–70.

    DOI: 10.2307/3090261

    Although much of the literature in the sociology of education examines the relationship between social origins and school effects of educational outcomes, Kingston and colleagues extend this line of research to examine the social consequences of educational attainment in terms of attitudes to equality, the acquisition of a social and cultural capital, and concern over current events and public issues.

  • Reynolds, John R., and Catherine E. Ross. 1998. Social stratification and health: Education’s benefit beyond economic status and social origins. Social Problems 45:221–247.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.1998.45.2.03x0167k

    Educational stratification has historically been, and continues to be, a dominating subfield within the sociology of education. This line of research, however, is often limited to the reproductive relationship between socioeconomic status and education. Reynolds and Ross extend this research to include physical and mental health and offer suggestions for future research to expand the scope of the educational stratification literature.

  • Riehl, Carolyn. 2001. Bridges to the future: The contributions of qualitative research to the sociology of education. Special issue: Current of thought: Sociology of education at the dawn of the 21st century. Edited by Aaron M. Pallas. Sociology of Education 74:115–134.

    This article reviews the contributions that interpretive qualitative research has made to the sociology of education, with a focus on four main areas: educational inequality, including effects on achievement; socialization, including norms, values, roles, and identity formation; school organization and the way in which schools function; and education policy.

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