ChapterPDF Available

Education and Social Class: Highlighting How the Educational System Perpetuates Social Inequality


Abstract and Figures

This chapter considers the idea that the educational system participates in the (re)production of social inequality. After outlining and discussing the sociological hypothesis that institutions play a role in the perpetuation of inequalities, we present social psychological research that highlights how educational settings engage students in a way that reproduces inequality in academic outcomes. We argue that education actively participates in the reproduction of inequality through a mainly symbolic process. This process involves soft coercion and relies on the implementation of a system of essentialist categories that shapes the construal of students’ academic reality. Specifically, academic achievement is understood to reveal students’ individual merit, thereby reaffirming the advantages and disadvantages related to family backgrounds that are at play in the classroom. We document this process by summarizing the results of observations and interviews conducted in preschools as well as experiments carried out in primary and secondary education. This research unveils some of the dynamics through which education, as an institution, creates the conditions for the construction, reproduction, and legitimation of the stratification of society.
Content may be subject to copyright.
139© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
J. Jetten, K. Peters (eds.), TheSocial Psychology ofInequality,
Education andSocial Class: Highlighting
How theEducational System Perpetuates
Social Inequality
Jean-ClaudeCroizet, FrédériqueAutin, SébastienGoudeau, MedhiMarot,
Any institution then starts to control the memory of its members; it causes them to forget
experiences incompatible with its righteous image, and it brings to their minds events which
sustain the view of nature that is complementary to itself. It provides the categories of their
thought, set the terms for self-knowledge and xes identity. All this is not enough. It must
secure the social edice by sacralizing the principles of justice. (Douglas, 1986, p.112)
Institutions, after all, do much of society’s dirty work in reproducing privilege and disad-
vantages. (DiMaggio, 2012, p.15)
Despite the facts that the slogan “Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood” is displayed
on many of its school buildings, and that its educational system can be considered
as free all the way to college, France remains the only Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) country where academic achievement is
most dependent on students’ social class (see the Programme for International
Student Assessment1). For example, children from working-class backgrounds,
though they constitute 40.5% of their age group, represent 73.5% of the youngsters
in junior high school who are directed toward the tracks designed for students with
special needs (SEGPA), and only 12.2% of students enrolled in a PhD program.
Their peers from more advantaged backgrounds, though only representing 14% of
their age group, constitute only 2% of the lower track students in junior high school
but 34.3% of students enrolled in a PhD (MEN-DEPP, 2016, 2018). The reason why
children from advantaged backgrounds outperform disadvantaged children has been
J.-C. Croizet (*) · M. Marot
Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et Cognitive andCNRS, Université Clermont-Auvergne,
Clermont-Ferrand, France
F. Autin
Université de Poitiers CNRS, Poitiers, France
S. Goudeau
Université Paris-Descartes, Paris, France
M. Millet
Université de Tours CNRS, Tours, France
hotly debated both in and outside academia (Biddle, 2001). Generally, individualist
accounts that claim that the poor lack the ability or character necessary for academic
success are complemented by external explanations that instead locate the decit in
the environment (e.g., family). In this chapter, our goal is to focus on an often-
neglected cause of the achievement gap: the educational system.
The idea that institutions play a role in reproducing social inequality is not new,
at least in sociology (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Although it has received far less
attention in social psychology, there is a growing interest in developing an under-
standing of how cultural contexts and social structures beyond the “immediate situ-
ation” shape behavioral outcomes in educational settings (see Autin & Butera, 2016;
Croizet, Goudeau, Marot, & Millet, 2017; Darnon, Wiederkehr, Dompnier, &
Martinot, 2018; Smeding, Darnon, Souchal, Toczek-Capelle, & Butera, 2013; see
also Batruch, Autin, & Butera, chapter “The Paradoxical Role of Meritocratic
Selection in the Perpetuation of Social Inequalities at School”; Easterbrook, Hadden
& Nieuwenhuis, chapter “Identities-in-Context: How Social Class Shapes
Inequalities in Education”). Here our goal is to analyze some of the processes
through which the educational system reproduces social inequality. We will rst
introduce the idea that institutions play a decisive role in the perpetuation of inequal-
ities. We will then describe how school classrooms create the conditions for the
construction, reproduction, and legitimation of the stratication of society.
Institutions andtheReproduction ofSocial Inequality
Social psychology has studied inequality for decades. But until recently, inequality
was mainly investigated through the lens of interpersonal discrimination.
Specically, this lens has shown that certain groups are deprived of access to certain
resources (education, housing, work) because they are treated differently by indi-
viduals who act on their negative stereotypes. These discriminating perpetrators can
be conscious racists, sexists, and classists, or nonprejudiced individuals, who are
unintendedly acting on racist, sexist, or classist beliefs. According to this “standard
perspective” (Adams, Edkins, Lacka, Pickett, & Cheryan, 2008), inequality can be
conceptualized as the outcome of (un)intentional actions of biased individuals.
Within this framework, ghting prejudiced attitudes and providing individuals with
tools to control the expression of their racist tendencies have been put forward as the
solution to reduce social inequalities.
However, albeit detrimental, interpersonal discrimination and outgroup hostility
cannot account for the persistence of inequality (Adams, Biernat, Branscombe,
Crandall, & Wrightsman, 2008; Jackman, 1994). This is because long-standing
patterns of domination that dene class, race, and gender relations are less charac-
terized by discrimination and conict than by acceptance of the domination
(Jackman, 1994). According to this “systemic perspective” (Adams, Biernat, etal.,
2008; Adams, Edkins, etal., 2008), ideologies and institutions play a decisive role
J.-C. Croizet et al.
in the acceptance and regulation of group domination (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977;
Jackman, 1994, 2001).
Indeed, throughout history, high-status groups have consistently relied on ideo-
logical narratives to provide a justication for their position in the social order
(Weber, 1914/1978; Zelditch Jr., 2001). While the details of the narratives have
changed with time and as a function of the nature of the hierarchy, they have all
afrmed the superiority of those in power over those at the bottom of the hierarchy
(Bisseret, 1974). This superiority is attributed to the possession of superior attri-
butes, be they divine (e.g., see the monarchies before the eighteenth century), natu-
ral, or acquired (see French Republics after the eighteenth century; Bisseret, 1974).
In contemporary societies that embrace democratic ideals, it is individual merit that
explains social stratication (see also Augoustinos & Callaghan, chapter “The
Language of Inequality”; Fiske & Durante, chapter “Mutual Status Stereotypes
Maintain Inequality”). According to this meritocratic narrative, one’s social position
is mostly a reection of one’s talent and effort (Young 1958), thus legitimizing
social positions (Jost & Kay, 2010). The entrenched relationship between percep-
tions of an individual’s success and their personal values was recently illustrated by
Emmanuel Macron, the French president. During his inauguration of a private start-
up campus on July 2, 2017, he claimed that “a train station is the location where
those who have succeeded pass those who are nothing.” Placing the origin of the
social hierarchy in individual merit offers a justication that can lead dominant and
dominated groups to accept their social position as legitimate (e.g., Kuppens,
Spears, Manstead, Spruyt, & Easterbrook, 2018; Wiederkehr, Bonnot, Krauth-
Gruber, & Darnon, 2015).
If these ideological narratives make sense of the social order and supply the tools
for its acceptance, it is institutions that regulate the domination by easing the ow
of exploitation from the dominated groups to the dominant groups (Jackman, 1994).
Institutions are enduring social arrangements embedded with pattern of ideologies,
norms, and roles that regulate relations among individuals (Dornbusch, Glasgow, &
Lin, 1996). They authorize certain relations and guide actors’ perceptions and
actions into forms that are compatible with these relations (Douglas, 1986). These
arrangements are not neutral; they embed the domination and exploitation of certain
groups by others. Indeed, institutions are biased “to carry out the ongoing task of
expropriating resources from the subordinates” (Jackman, 1994, p.65). There are
many examples of this institutionalization of domination in history (Noiriel, 2018;
Zinn, 1980). One is the institution of marriage (Jackman, 1994)—in France, for
example, until 1965, married women were not allowed to have a job without the
consent of their husband. Another example is labor legislation that denes the rights
of workers in their relation with their employers (Noiriel, 2018).
More generally, the very denition of what is legal in a given society reveals how
institutions are impregnated with the reality of domination and exploitive relations
that structure society, from the denition of constitutional rights (who is a citizen,
who is allowed to vote, who is allowed to protest) to criminal law (Alexander, 2010;
Reiman & Leigthon, 2012) or the way taxes are set and enforced (Piketty, 2014;
Social Reproduction in Education
Spire, 2012). Institutions therefore play a central role in the long-lasting relation of
domination because they “stabilize and routinize the supply of benets from one
group to another” (Jackman, 1994). The design of institutions means that domination
and exploitation require neither intentional actions from dominants nor consent
from subordinates; they just happen.
Institutions produce inequality by imposing systems of classication that not
only channel how individuals think, act, and dene themselves, but also determine
their fate (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Jackman, 1994;
Tilly, 1999). Categorical inequality (Tilly, 1999) is one of the theories that describe
this process. According to Tilly (1999), institutions manufacture institutional cate-
gories (“welfare recipient,” “inmate,” “gifted,” “entrepreneur”) that are used to fun-
nel individuals into institutional tracks that profoundly shape their access to
positions in a stratied society (e.g., in France being oriented towards a vocational
school rather than a general high school). Thus, institutions act as “sorting machines”
(Domina, Penner, & Penner, 2017). Importantly, this sorting process is not blind; it
produces disparate outcomes as a function of class, gender, and race. As we will
discuss next, the effectiveness of these categorization and sorting processes in the
reproduction of inequality is particularly well illustrated in educational systems
(Domina etal., 2017).
Education: AnEgalitarian Institution or aHierarchies
Due to its unavoidability and prevalence, education holds a particularly potent posi-
tion in society. Up until the age of adulthood, individuals will have spent most of
their life in schools. According to functionalists (Davis & Moore, 1945), education
fullls two distinct goals: education and selection (see Autin & Butera, 2016;
Batruch et al. chapter “The Paradoxical Role of Meritocratic Selection in the
Perpetuation of Social Inequalities at School”; Darnon etal., 2018; Jury, Smeding,
& Darnon, 2015). Schools are charged with developing a “properly trained and
socialized citizenry” (Dornbusch etal., 1996, p.403) with a focus on teaching the
cognitive and technical skills to perform societal occupations. Aside from this “edu-
cational” function, the stratication of society means that educational institutions
are also granted a “selection” function, whereby they are responsible for ensuring
that the most meritorious people access the highest status positions (Carson, 2007;
Davis & Moore, 1945).
Selection is achieved by implementing a process of “equal opportunities.
Specically, students are grouped by age, face the same teacher, receive the same
educational material, take the same examinations, and, in the best schools, are even
treated the same. These settings aim at ensuring “fair competition” and guaranteeing
that differences in achievement can only reveal individual merit. As such, they con-
stitute the optimal institutional arrangement for dispositional attribution (Kelley,
1967). Education is thus not only a sorting machine but also the ofcial merit revealer.
J.-C. Croizet et al.
Merit is gauged through a system of internal categories and practices (e.g.,
“grades,” “awards,” “high achievers,” “low achievers,” “advanced placement”) that
are saturated with psychological essentialism, the belief that the nature or essence
of the individuals is the cause of their behavior (Medin & Ortony, 1989; Rothbart &
Taylor, 1992). Regardless of whether this essence is biological (genes or natural
ability; Keller, 2005) or social (an unstimulating family environment; Rangel &
Keller, 2011), essentialism impregnates institutional categories and tracks (e.g.,
“gifted,” “advanced,” “straight-As,” “learning disability,” “dropout,” “vocational”).
The use of such labels conveys the idea that the categories rely on inherent, deep,
and stable qualities (e.g., Cimpian & Erickson, 2012; Heyman, 2008). These essen-
tialist categories are further institutionally reinforced by its reward systems: gold
stars, report cards, percentile rankings, and award ceremonies. Because of the per-
vasiveness of this institutional category assignment, it is not surprising that even
when very young (e.g., when starting preschool), children become particularly con-
cerned about whether they are smart, slow, or motivated; in other words, whether
they are meritorious (Millet & Croizet, 2016).
Education: TheEgalitarian Institution That Stages anUnfair
Though educational institutions rely on a system of internal categories that is sup-
posedly unrelated to external categories, like class, gender, race, and educational
outcomes are strongly related to one’s social background (see the Programme for
International Student Assessment2). As a result, far from being a level playing eld,
education promotes and values certain norms that are closer to the regular cultural
practices of dominant groups, which ultimately give them an advantage in the “mer-
itocratic contest.” These norms value certain forms of language (Carter, 2003;
Labov, 1970, Lahire, 2000), interest in certain forms of arts and literature, particular
knowledge and skills (Lareau & Weininger, 2003), attendance of the “right” muse-
ums (Bourdieu, 1979), specic academic attitudes (Blackledge, 2001), or bodily
posture (Bourdieu, 1979; Millet & Thin, 2003), and the expression of independence
agency (Stephens, Markus, & Phillips, 2014).
These implicit norms are already noticeable in the preschool years. In French
preschools, children are not graded but they participate in multiple daily activities
aimed at group socialization and at developing reading and writing skills. One rou-
tinized activity is the “what’s up?” exercise (quoi de neuf?). Children sit in a circle
in front of the teacher and share with the group something they experienced during
the weekend. Two ndings stood out from a series of observations conducted in 10
school classrooms (Millet & Croizet, 2016). Almost every child quickly understood
that the “what’s up” exercise was a competition for gratication and was eager to
Social Reproduction in Education
participate. Children also rapidly gured out that not all of the experiences shared
with the group had the same value. In other words, students experienced rsthand
being sorted into new categories distinguishing between those who had something
“interesting” to share and the others.
Teacher: --« You’re talking about the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse, High Speed Train) [...]?
Who has been on the TGV? »
Several students raise their hand and explain that they have traveled with the TGV.The
teacher asks where they went on the TGV.It is noteworthy that having been on the TGV is
clearly valued and what the TGV is, is never explained.
Abdoullah—who is sitting separately from the others and is wiggling on his chair—
turns around and says “what about me?”
Teacher: “Yes, you, I can’t let you speak because you are not in the circle with us.
Abdoullah enters the circle and stays in the middle.
Teacher: “Sit down Abdoullah if you want to share something. You know what you have
to do if you want to tell us something” [to raise his hand].
When Alexia is talking, the teacher says, “Alexia, a little while ago, when you were
talking, everyone was listening to you, now it would be good if you would do the same.”
Then turning toward Abdoullah, the teacher tells him: “Yes Abdoullah, what do you want to
Abdoullah explains in a way that is hard to understand that his mother bought him some
Teacher.— « Your mom bought you pasta, is that it? (in a mocking tone) Oh?! »
The exchange that follows helps to clarify that Abdoullah means “toothpaste.” The
teacher makes him repeat that it is toothpaste while winking to the interviewer.
A little later [...] the teacher explains to the interviewer that she often invites students to
talk about their weekend, because there is always something happening and things to share
and adds, while laughing ironically: “if only for: “Mom bought some toothpaste.” »
(Observation of a preschool classroom, 3-year-old children and interview with the
teacher, Millet & Croizet, 2016, pp. 169–170, translated from French.)
Because implicit academic norms more closely resemble the cultural practices
adopted by more advantaged families (Kusserow, 2004; Lareau, 2003), the educa-
tional system is inherently biased in favor of students from privileged back-
grounds. The match versus mismatch of academic implicit norms and family
cultural practices (Stephens, Fryberg, Markus, Johnson, & Covarrubias, 2012) has
therefore two important consequences. First, middle-class students, who are
familiar with these norms, are more at ease in academic settings. Indeed, they
enter school possessing cultural capital that confers a head start in the classroom
such as the use of particular linguistic posture, the way to express personal opin-
ions, the display of constrained bodily posture, and being knowledgeable of the
right museums (modern art vs. sports hall of fames; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977;
Lamont & Lareau, 1988).
Second, because education is both conceived to be a level playing eld and
impregnated with psychological essentialism, higher cultural capital does more than
just boost performance. Indeed, it also provides important avenues for symbolic
gratication: Being categorized as “smart,” “intelligent,” and “interesting.” In con-
trast, for working-class students—who are less familiar with these cultural prac-
tices— these structures pose a barrier to academic performance. And when they
struggle to meet expectations, as the following excerpt suggests, their failure to t
in is quickly interpreted as a sign they are not that smart nor motivated.
J.-C. Croizet et al.
Teacher: “This year, actually, we had many good experiences...what I call good experi-
ences, are ... kids euh (...) that are really invested in learning, that are curious, actually, that
want to learn by themselves, they are autonomous in their work (...) they understand why
they are in school, who have the desire…, really, they have a real motivation, they have a
real work dynamic and who in addition, often..., are easier to deal with, well, so to speak,
... remarkable students, more attentive to the others. Actually, I’m thinking about a kid,
Maxence [father engineer, mother receptionist], who had a very high language prociency
and understanding, and good graphic skills, a good understanding of numbers and was very
ready for kindergarten. And well... he was a kid that got a lot of help at home anyway, with
a supporting family. [His parents] are from a rather high social background with visits to
museums, visits to the library... He was always reading books. He asked many questions...
had a good relation with the others. So, yes, he somehow had everything. [...] Those are kids
that are very active in the classroom and who orally interact with the adult and the other
children. [...] And there are children for whom it works and for the others, it’s more difcult.
But those whom I call “bright,” it’s them who get it quickly, who work autonomously, who
see what is expected (silence)... who put into use...what they have learned, who establish
links between things. Well, there’s rather... interesting to see that they re-use the
things that they have experienced.
Interviewer: “Can you give me a concrete example?”
Teacher: “For example, with the comprehension of books it is striking... you have those
who can tell, by themselves, without...without being asked: “This story is funny, it makes
me think about that story” (silence), because of the same character, same narrative struc-
ture, because of the same backgrounds, well [...]. So those are the children, who..., yes, who
are quick, who are, who are... intelligent [...]”
(Interview with a preschool teacher, Millet & Croizet, 2016, pp.93–94, translated from
Importantly this excerpt shows that the educational system produces a meritocratic
understanding of the classroom reality that imposes itself onto the individual actors.
As pointed out by Douglas, “institutions systematically (...) channel our perceptions
into forms compatible with the relations they authorize” (1986, p. 92). In other
words, the way actors (here: teachers) think, perceive, or judge is afforded by the
institutional settings, which, prior to their own thinking, denes the range of what is
possible and what is not. In the above example, the teacher thinks, perceives, and
judges students’ behavior through the lens of meritocratic essentialism. Therefore,
appropriate behaviors with regard to the academic norms can only reect intrinsic
qualities or limitation of the students.
Education: Staging theConditions forSymbolic Violence
As illustrated by the following observation, the imposition of this meritocratic
essentialism in the classroom also affects students:
Barak [5-year-old, single mother, unemployed]: “Simpleton, is that a bad word?”
Interviewer: “A little bit...but why do you say that? Did you call someone that? Did
someone call you that?”
Barak: “Yes, myself, I say it to myself when I fail at something.
(Interview in preschool classroom, Millet & Croizet, 2016, p. 184, translated from
Social Reproduction in Education
This example shows that students learn to “see” the institutional reality through the
mental categories that it affords and that this imposition is powerful enough to shape
their own self-views. By presenting itself as a meritocratic contest, the educational
system therefore conceals a powerful form of symbolic domination. This symbolic
domination transforms (dis)advantages related to social class into individual merit
differences. It constitutes an example of symbolic violence (Bourdieu & Passeron,
1977), that is, an invisible coercive force that operates through the categorizations
manufactured and imposed by institutions. This process leads dominated group
members to accept the legitimacy of the principles of those that dominate them. As
illustrated in the example of Barak, this process is violent because in the end it
manufactures the consent of the dominated group to its domination (Bourdieu,
1979; Weber, 1914/1978). But, importantly, these submissions are not perceived as
such because they rely on the ingrained beliefs produced and imposed by the
Even though the concept of symbolic violence has predominantly been used in
sociology, there is recent evidence from social psychological research that provides
evidence documenting how it operates in the classroom (see Croizet etal., 2017).
The fact that education institutionalizes an essentialist classication of individuals
and organizes a merit contest produces at least four psychological outcomes: (a)
children will be concerned about their intellectual merit and spontaneously engage
in social comparisons; (b) any variation in achievement will be categorized as
revealing differences in individual merit (Kelley, 1967); (c) due to their lower famil-
iarity with academic norms (lower cultural capital; see Bourdieu, 1979), students
from working-class backgrounds will experience upward social comparison as
indicative of their intellectual inadequacy (i.e., symbolic violence); and, nally, (d)
this experience will disrupt their performance and therefore contribute to the social
class achievement gap (Croizet & Millet, 2012; Rogers & Feller, 2016).
A series of experimental studies provides initial evidence for this analysis
(Goudeau & Croizet, 2017). Eleven-year-old students, in their school classroom,
took a difcult reading test involving a series of questions. Two experimental condi-
tions were created. In the visibility condition, the differences in performance were
suggested by instructing students to raise their hand if they believed they knew the
answer before the allotted time. In the no-visibility condition, students were not
asked to raise their hands and were thus not provided with a clue to sort themselves
into meritocratic categories. Not surprisingly, because of their higher familiarity
with the linguistics norms (i.e., written language) that prevail in school (Lahire,
2000), upper-middle-class students outperformed those from working-class back-
grounds. As predicted, however, when the superior performance of their peers was
suggested through hand raising, students from working-class backgrounds per-
formed even more poorly (see Fig.1a).
Following this nding, we set out to test the hypothesis that working-class students
failed because their lower familiarity with academic standards leads them to believe
that if they lag behind, it is a sign of lower ability. In another experiment, we manipu-
lated the level of familiarity with academic standards as a proxy for social class. We
designed a task that involved learning a new writing code (e.g., “+”=“M”; “)”=“D”).
J.-C. Croizet et al.
Two levels of familiarity with this new language were induced by allowing 10-year-old
children to either practice the coding a lot or only a little. Students then took a coding
test. Again, half of participants were instructed to raise their hands if they believed they
had found the right answer while the other half did not receive this instruction. Results
showed that the experimentally disadvantaged students (i.e., those who only had lim-
ited opportunity to practice the coding scheme) performed worse when the higher
performance of the experimentally advantaged students (i.e., those who were well
trained) was suggested through hand raising (see Fig.1b). This nding showed that an
arbitrary and hidden advantage, here a higher familiarity with a performance task, was
enough to fuel the achievement gap in an educational context. Interestingly, this pat-
tern was not moderated by students’ gender, academic level, or even social back-
ground, suggesting that being a regular high achiever or from the upper-middle class
offered no protection to the symbolic violence generated by the situation.
Next, we wanted to further substantiate the claim that it was the essentialist inter-
pretation of the differences in performance (i.e., the institutional categorization
afforded in the institutional context) that caused symbolic violence. Because educa-
tional settings conceal the privileges and disadvantages that family backgrounds
bring, we predicted that students who are less familiar with the academic standards
are likely to attribute their struggle to achieve relative to others as a sign of intel-
lectual inferiority. A last study showed that simply making students aware of this
disadvantage, by revealing before taking the test that some of them received more
and better preparation for the test, was enough to protect students from seeing in the
better achievement of their peers a threatening social comparison (Fig.1c).
Fig. 1 (a) Reading-comprehension score (number of correct answers) as a function of social class
(working class vs. upper-middle class), presented separately for classrooms in which differences
in performance were visible and were not visible during the test (not visible: hand down vs. visible:
hand raising). Scores ranged from 0 to 20. (b) Number of correctly coded letters as a function of
familiarity with the task (low vs. high), separately by visibility of differences in achievement (not
visible: hand down vs. visible: hand raising). Scores ranged from 0 to 150. (c) Number of correctly
decoded symbols as a function of level of familiarity with the task, separately for students who
were aware of the disadvantage in levels of familiarity with the task and those who were not.
Differences in performance were visible in all conditions (i.e., hands were raised). Scores ranged
from 0 to 120. Error bars represent +1 SEM.Adapted from Goudeau and Croizet (2017)
Social Reproduction in Education
In sum, by focusing on the differences in familiarity with academic norms, three
studies showed how this form of (dis)advantage affected performance in academic
settings. Other research has shown that familiarity with academic standards more
generally can confer an invisible advantage for upper-middle-class students. For
example, universities are organized around independence norms that dene the
“right” way to behave as a student in college: Students are expected to make choices,
to possess and express personal opinions, to be autonomous, to develop their own
projects, and to follow their own path (Lahire, Millet, & Pardell, 1996; Stephens
et al., 2012). These standards t to a large extent with the cultural practices of
upper-middle-class families that nurture expressing one’s personal choice, taste,
and self-expression and individualism (Kusserow, 2004; Lareau, 2003). At the same
time, these standards do not match the more interdependent models of self that are
fostered in working-class contexts. For example, working-class students may be
reluctant to participate in class just because it portrays them as attempting to show
off in front of the others. By showcasing differences in students’ performance as
purely reecting academic attitudes or ability, the educational system hides the
advantages and disadvantages that are at play and sets symbolic violence into
The power of this essentialist framing of reality is such that students do not even
need to be exposed to peers from privileged backgrounds to experience symbolic
violence. As stated by Douglas in the epigraph of this chapter, institutional catego-
ries become students’ own categories of thoughts. Autin and Croizet (2012) found
that merely experiencing difculty in school, which by denition is inherent to any
act of learning, is enough to trigger self-doubts, perceptions of incompetence, and
disruption of cognitive performance. They showed that substituting the essentialist
categories with an alternative that portrays experiencing their struggle to learn as a
necessary step in learning was sufcient to free children from symbolic violence
and resulted in a boost in performance on very difcult cognitive tests (i.e., improved
verbal and spatial working memory spans and uid intelligence; Autin & Croizet,
2019). Ultimately, however, the persuasion carried out by the institution through its
meaning-making process becomes so pervasive that, as coined by Douglas (1986),
it xes “self-knowledge” and “identities.”. Through the recurring experience of
symbolic violence and the personal disqualication that accompanies it, students
from working-class backgrounds are led to internalize a sense of inferiority while
those from more privileged backgrounds experience enhanced self-efcacy
(Wiederkehr, Darnon, Chazal, Guimond, & Martinot, 2015). In other words, upper-
middle class and working-class students develop a stable sense of their own efcacy
that is congruent with the position that is ascribed to them in the hierarchy.
The educational system thus regulates the relations between actors (teachers and
students) and provides the cognitive categories to make sense of the reality it stages.
Through this construal process, students are assigned to an academic hierarchy that
denes who they are and what they are entitled to. Throughout this institutional
process, social inequality is silently reproduced without intention and in the absence
of conict between dominant and dominated groups.
J.-C. Croizet et al.
Social inequalities have reached in democratic societies a level rarely observed in
the past. In this chapter, our goal was to highlight how the educational system,
which signicantly contributes to the reduction of social inequality by promoting
some social mobility along the social ladder, nevertheless simultaneously plays a
decisive role in the perpetuation of these inequalities. Indeed, education accom-
plishes the important task of selecting and preparing individuals for the future posi-
tions they will hold in the social structure. As an institution, it elaborates internal
categories that are used to sort students and funnel them in academic tracks. In
societies that embrace democratic and equalitarian ideals, these internal categories
are explicitly dened as unrelated to external categories such as class, race, or gen-
der. But it is also clear that the outcome of the educational sorting process is not
blind, and education plays a role in the reproduction and legitimation of the social
structure. As discussed in this chapter, the educational system fullls this role
through an institutionalized process of soft coercion that involves the imposition of
a system of essentialist categories combined with sorting procedures. This institu-
tional conguration not only sustains relations of domination but also shields insti-
tutions from criticisms of injustice. Without culprits or a proven intent to harm,
contestants carry the burden of demonstrating that these internal categories and
institutional rules are biased with regard to social class, race, and gender. This issue
has been at the core of most legal battles for social justice throughout history
(Noiriel, 2018; Zinn, 1980). If sociology has long argued that institutions do play a
role in the perpetuation of social inequalities, we believe that social psychology is
nevertheless uniquely equipped to document the very process through which it
operates, as we hope this chapter illustrates.
Adams, G., Biernat, M., Branscombe, N. R., Crandall, C. S., & Wrightsman, L. S. (2008).
Beyond prejudice: Toward a sociocultural psychology of racism and oppression. In G.Adams,
M.Biernat, N.R. Branscombe, C.S. Crandall, & L.S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Commemorating
Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination (pp.215–246). Washington, DC:
American Psychological Association.
Adams, G., Edkins, V., Lacka, D., Pickett, K., & Cheryan, S. (2008). Teaching about racism:
Pernicious implications of the standard portrayal. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 30(4),
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness.
NewYork: The New Press.
Autin, F., & Butera, F. (2016). Editorial: Institutional determinants of social inequalities. Frontiers
in Psychology, 6, 215–212.
Autin, F., & Croizet, J.-C. (2012). Improving working memory efciency by reframing meta-
cognitive interpretation of task difculty. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141,
Social Reproduction in Education
Autin, F., & Croizet, J.-C. (2019). Boosting children’s working memory and uid intelligence: An
intervention dissociating self-worth from performance. Unpublished manuscript.
Biddle, B.J. (2001). Poverty, ethnicity, and achievement in American schools. In B.J. Biddle (Ed.),
Social class, poverty, and education: Policy and practice (pp.1–29). NewYork: Routledge.
Bisseret, N. (1974). Les inégaux ou la sélection universitaire [Unequals or college selection].
Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Blackledge, A. (2001). The wrong sort of capital? Bangladeshi women and their children's school-
ing in Birmingham, U.K. International Journal of Bilingualism, 5, 345–369.
Bourdieu, P. (1979). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. London:
Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America: Education reform and the con-
tradictions of economic life. NewYork: Basic Books.
Carson, J.(2007). The measure of merit: Talents, intelligence, and inequality in the French and
American republics, 1750–1940. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Carter, P. L. (2003). “Black” cultural capital, status positioning, and schooling conicts for low-
income African American youth. Social Problems, 50, 136–155.
Cimpian, A., & Erickson, L.C. (2012). The effect of generic statements on children's causal attri-
butions: Questions of mechanism. Developmental Psychology, 48, 159–170.
Croizet, J. C., & Millet, M. (2012). Social class and test performance: From stereotype threat to
symbolic violence and vice versa. In M. Inzlicht & T. Schmader (Eds.), Stereotype threat:
Theory, process and application (pp. 188–201). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Croizet, J.-C., Goudeau, S., Marot, M., & Millet, M. (2017). How do educational contexts contrib-
ute to the social class achievement gap: Documenting symbolic violence from a social psycho-
logical point of view. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 105–110.
Darnon, C., Wiederkehr, V., Dompnier, B., & Martinot, D. (2018). “Where there is a will, there is
a way”: Belief in School Meritocracy and the social-class achievement gap. British Journal of
Social Psychology, 57, 250–262.
Davis, K., & Moore, W. E. (1945). Some principles of stratication. American Sociological
Review, 10, 242–249.
Dimaggio, P. (2012). Sociological perspectives on face-to-face enactment of class distinctions.
In S.T. Fiske & H.R. Markus (Eds.), Facing social class: Social psychology of social class
(pp.15–38). NewYork, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Domina, T., Penner, A., & Penner, E. (2017). Categorical inequality: Schools as sort-
ing machines. Annual Review of Sociology, 43(1), 311–330.
Dornbusch, S.M., Glasgow, K.L., & Lin, I.C. (1996). The social structure of schooling. Annual
Review of Psychology, 47(1), 401–429.
Douglas, M. (1986). How institutions think. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Goudeau, S., & Croizet, J.-C. (2017). Hidden advantages and disadvantages of social class: How
classroom settings reproduce social inequality by staging unfair comparison. Psychological
Science, 28(2), 162–170.
Heyman, G.D. (2008). Talking about success: Implications for achievement motivation. Journal
of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 361–370.
Jackman, M.R. (1994). The velvet glove: Paternalism and conict in gender, class, and race rela-
tions. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Jackman, M. J. (2001). License to kill: Violence and legitimacy in expropriative intergroup rela-
tions. In J. T. Jost and B. Major (ed.), The psychology of legitimacy: emerging perspectives on
ideology, justice, and intergroup relations (pp.437–467). Cambridge University Press..
J.-C. Croizet et al.
Jost, J.T., & Kay, A.C. (2010). Social justice: History, theory and research. In S.T. Fiske, D.T.
Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (5th ed., pp. 1122–1165).
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Jury, M., Smeding, A., & Darnon, C. (2015). First-generation students’ underperformance at uni-
versity: The impact of the function of selection. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 731. https://doi.
Keller, J.(2005). In genes we trust: The biological component of psychological essentialism and
its relationship to mechanisms of motivated social cognition. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 88(4), 686–702.
Kelley, H. H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In D. Levine (Ed.), Nebraska
Symposium on Motivation (Vol. 15, pp.192–238). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Kuppens, T., Spears, R., Manstead, A.S. R., Spruyt, B., & Easterbrook, M.J. (2018). Educationism
and the irony of meritocracy: Negative attitudes of higher educated people towards the less
educated. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 429–447.
Kusserow, A.S. (2004). American individualism: Child rearing and social class in three neighbor-
hoods. NewYork, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Labov, W. (1970). The logic of non-standard English. Champaign, IL: National Council of
Teachers of English.
Lahire, B. (2000). Culture écrite et inégalités scolaire [Written culture and academic inequality].
Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon.
Lahire, B., Millet, M., & Pardell, E. (1996). Les manières d’étudier, enquête 1994. Paris:
Documentation Française.
Lamont, M., & Lareau, A. (1988). Cultural capital: Allusions, gaps and glissandos in recent theo-
retical developments. Sociological Theory, 6, 153–168.
Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University
of California Press.
Lareau, A., & Weininger, E. B. (2003). Cultural capital in educational research: A criti-
cal assessment. Theory and Society, 32(5–6), 567–606.
Medin, D. L., & Ortony, A. (1989). Psychological essentialism. In S.Vosniadou & A. Ortony
(Eds.), Similarity and analogical reasoning (pp.179–195). NewYork: Cambridge University
MEN-DEPP. (2016). Repères et références statistiques. Enseignements, formation, recherche.
Direction de l’Evaluation de la Prospective et de la Performance, Ministère de l’Education
MEN-DEPP. (2018). Repères et références statistiques. Enseignements, formation, recherche.
Direction de l’Evaluation de la Prospective et de la Performance, Ministère de l’Education
Millet, M., & Croizet, J.C. (2016). L'école des incapables? La maternelle, un apprentissage de la
domination. [Schooling of the unables? Pre-K education, the experience of domination]. Paris:
La Dispute.
Millet, M., & Thin, D. (2003). Ruptures scolaires. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Noiriel, G. (2018). Une histoire populaire de la France: de la guerre de Cent Ans à nos jours [A
people’s history of France]. Marseille: Agone.
Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the Twenty-rst century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rangel, U., & Keller, J.(2011). Essentialism goes social: Belief in social determinism as a com-
ponent of psychological essentialism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(6),
Reiman, J., & Leigthon, P. (2012). The rich get richer and the poor get prison: Ideology, class and
criminal justice. NewYork: Pearson.
Rogers, T., & Feller, A. (2016). Discouraged by peer excellence. Psychological Science, 27(3),
Social Reproduction in Education
Rothbart, M., & Taylor, M. (1992). Category labels and social reality: Do we view social catego-
ries as natural kinds? In G.R. S.Semin & K.Fiedler (Eds.), Language, interaction and social
cognition (pp.11–36). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Smeding, A., Darnon, C., Souchal, C., Toczek-Capelle, M.C., & Butera, F. (2013). Reducing the
socio-economic status achievement gap at university by promoting mastery-oriented assess-
ment. PLoS One, 8(8), e71678.
Spire, A. (2012). Faibles et puissants face à l’impôt [Weak or powerful toward taxes]. Paris:
Raisons d’Agir.
Stephens, N.M., Fryberg, S.A., Markus, H. R., Johnson, C., & Covarrubias, R. (2012). Unseen
disadvantage: How American universities’ focus on independence undermines the academic
performance of rst-generation college students. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
102, 1178–1197.
Stephens, N. M., Markus, H. R., & Phillips, L. T. (2014). Social class culture cycles: How three
gateway contexts shape selves and fuel inequality. Annual Review of Psychology, 65:611–634.
Tilly, C. (1999). Durable inequality. Berkeley, CA: University Calif. Press.
Weber, M. (1914/1978). Economy and society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Wiederkehr, V., Darnon, C., Chazal, S., Guimond, S., & Martinot, D. (2015). From social class to
self-efcacy: Internalization of low social status pupils’ school performance. Social Psychology
of Education, 18(4), 769–784.
Wiederkehr, V., Bonnot, V., Krauth-Gruber, S., & Darnon, C. (2015). Belief in school meritocracy
as a system-justifying tool for low status students. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1053.
Young, M. (1958). The rise of the meritocracy. London, England: Thames & Hudson..
Zelditch Jr., M. (2001). Theories of legitimacy. In J.Jost & B.Major (Eds.), The psychology of
legitimacy: Emerging perspectives on ideology, justice, and intergroup relations (pp.33–53).
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Zinn, H. (1980). A people’s history of the United State. NewYork, NY: Harper & Row.
J.-C. Croizet et al.
... Studies have repeatedly indicated that objective factors, such as lower education, are related to greater CB endorsement (Davis et al., 2018;Douglas et al., 2016;Garrett & Weeks, 2017;Goertzel, 1994;Green & Douglas, 2018;Herek & Capitanio, 1994;Mancosu et al., 2017;Oliver & Wood, 2014a;Radnitz & Underwood, 2015;Stempel et al., 2007;Swami, Furnham et al., 2016;Uscinski & Parent, 2014;Van Prooijen, 2017;. Therefore, it is likely that precarity could exert a remote influence on CB through decreased access to the economic and educational resources required to succeed academically (Croizet et al., 2019;Goudeau et al., 2017). ...
Full-text available
Conspiracy Beliefs (CB) are a key vector of violent extremism, radicalism and unconventional political events (e.g. Brexit). So far, social-psychological research has extensively documented how cognitive, emotional and intergroup factors can promote CB. Evidence also suggests that adherence to CB moves along social class lines: low-income and low-education are among the most robust predictors of CB (Uscinski, 2020; van Prooijen, 2017). Yet, the potential role of precarity-the subjective experience of permanent insecurity stemming from objective material strain-in shaping CB remains largely unexplored. In this paper, we propose for the first time a socio-functional model of CB. We test the hypothesis that precarity could foster increased CB because it undermines trust in government and the broader political "elites". Data from the World Value Survey (n = 21,650; Study 1, electoral CB) and from representative samples from polls conducted in France (n = 1760, Study 2a, conspiracy mentality) and Italy (n = 2196, Study 2b, COVID-19 CB), corroborate a mediation model whereby precarity is directly and indirectly associated with lower trust in authorities and higher CB. In addition, these links are robust to adjustment on income, self-reported SES and education. Considering precarity allows for a truly social psychological understanding of CB as the by-product of structural issues (e.g. growing inequalities). Results from our socio-functional model suggest that implementing solutions at the socioeconomic level could prove efficient in fighting CB.
... Regional disparities in school achievements have relevant implications for educational and social policies: they reflect, in fact, inequality in social conditions and/or in the effectiveness of school systems and, in turn, represent a channel of reproduction of social inequality (Van de Werfhorst, Mijs 2010; Croizet et al., 2019). Furthermore, since human capital is a key factor for economic growth (Castelló and Doménech 2002), large disparities in education may influence regional economic development prospects. ...
Full-text available
The relationship between PISA 2012 maths test scores and relative poverty was tested in a sample of 35 Italian and Spanish regions, together with a larger sample that included Australian, Belgian, and Canadian regions. The correlation between mean scores in mathematics, adjusted for students' socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, and poverty rates is ‐−0.84 for the Italian and Spanish sample, and −0.68 for the complete sample. In the regressions, the effect of relative poverty on mean scores in mathematics is highly significant (p < 0.01), robust to different specifications, and independent from students' backgrounds and regional development levels. It is proposed that disparities in average scores in mathematics across regions depend on the shares of low-performing students which, in turn, depend on the degree of relative poverty within regions. The implications for the thesis according to which, in Italy and Spain, regional disparities in educational achievements reflect genetic differences in the IQ of populations are discussed.
... Out of all the OECD countries, only Hungary has a more broken social elevator with seven generations to reach a mean income level. Likewise, out of all OECD countries, France stands out as the country where academic achievement is most dependent on students' social class (see Croizet et al., 2019). ...
Full-text available
Our analysis explores the rise of the Yellow Vest movement as a collective response to perceptions of growing levels of economic inequality in France whereby collective action is triggered by the perceived illegitimacy of the growing gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. We highlight different psychological processes that might explain why concerns about economic inequality have become more salient. We focus on two dynamics in particular: (a) President Macron’s perceived alignment with the elites and disconnection from ordinary French people, and (b) historically dominant collective narratives that frame growing inequality as breaking with long-standing values and norms of equality. Both processes enhance ‘us’ (the victims) versus ‘them’ (the elite and those that are not true to national values of equality) categorizations along wealth lines whereby, ‘us’ becomes a broad category. To explain why the movement continues to go strong, we focus on ongoing intergroup processes (i.e., the police response, lack of support from intellectuals and the middle class) and intragroup processes (i.e., the movement brings together all those who self-categorise as 'victims of inequality', uniting those that may at other times be seen as ‘strange bedfellows’). We conclude that a proper understanding of the way in which economic inequality might divide society creating new intergroup dynamics is essential to understand the Yellow Vest movement.
Full-text available
This study explores perceptions about educational attainment as a way to improve living conditions in Mexico. We focus specifically on two questions: (1) What are people's perceptions towards educational attainment and improved living conditions?; and (2a) Do these perceptions differ by the level of education attained; (2b) Do these perceptions differ by gender? The research draws upon data from semi-structured interviews (N = 247) that were conducted in four Mexican states with different levels of social welfare: Mexico City, Tamaulipas, State of Mexico, and Oaxaca. The interviewees were selected using the snowball method and other eligibility criteria such as level of education and age (17 years and older), and the data were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach. The findings show that respondents with lower levels of education saw education as a means to securing better jobs and better outcomes in other spheres of their lives. Contradictory sentiments were expressed by respondents in the graduate education group, while some respondents in this group saw educational attainment as a way of ensuring access to well-paying jobs and better welfare other indicated that education does not always guarantee a change in their socioeconomic status. As expected, a strong link between educational attainment and improved living conditions was reported by respondents in the highly educated group. Implications for policy and gendered interventions are suggested.
Humans are extraordinary in the extent to which we rely on cumulative culture to act upon and make sense of our environment. Teaching is one social learning process thought to be fundamental to the evolution of cumulative culture as a means of adaptation in our species. However, the frequency of teaching and how we teach are known to vary across human sociocultural contexts. Understanding this variation adds to our understanding of the complex interplay between cognition and culture in shaping learning behavior but also contributes to theory around the costs and benefits of different social learning processes. Here, we examined how prior experience with formal education is related to the frequency and diversity of teaching behaviors in an experimental paradigm where caregivers were motivated (but not instructed) to teach a simple skill to a child (7–10 years old). We identified and coded a suite of subtle nonverbal behaviors that could be construed as facilitating learning. Dyads (n = 64) were recruited from two communities on Tanna Island that differ in their experience with formal schooling and their acceptance of Western institutions. We found evidence for parallel teaching strategies in both communities. However, the rate and diversity of teaching behaviors were positively associated with caregiver’s experience with formal schooling and independently and negatively associated with being from a village that rejects Western-derived institutions. These results further our understanding of how multiple cultural processes influence social learning and highlights the powerful influence of formal schooling on the cultural evolution of teaching in humans.
Purpose This paper aims to provide a commentary on how the accelerated utilisation of online learning in accounting education could further impede Pasifika students from completing an accounting qualification, thus perpetuating Pasifika underrepresentation in accounting. Design/methodology/approach This commentary is based on the authors’ experiences and informal conversations with teaching colleagues and support staff. This paper uses Bourdieu’s (1977, 1990) theory of practice with a focus on his notion of symbolic violence to evaluate the challenges faced by Pasifika students in the learning of accounting. Findings The social world is inherently unfair, and this can be seen in the inequality that persists in various settings, one of which is in the accounting field. Acquiring an accounting degree requires studying accounting content, which is taught and assessed in a particular way. Unfortunately for the Pasifika learner, learning and assessment in accounting education are according to the demands and rules of the accounting field. These demands and rules, with the increased utilisation of online learning, are at odds with the Pasifika student’s habitus. Thus, Pasifika accounting students are likely to be disadvantaged by the increased utilisation of online learning. This could potentially exacerbate their underachievement in accounting education and prolong Pasifika underrepresentation in the accounting profession. Practical implications This paper contributes to teaching practice by bringing to the fore the potential of online learning as an additional impediment for Pasifika students in accounting education. This will help inform policymakers, tertiary institutions, accounting accreditation bodies, educators and support staff and could result in the formulation of suitable strategies to better support Pasifika students in online learning. Originality/value This paper is original and provides a critical analysis of how some groups in society will be disadvantaged by the increased utilisation of online learning in accounting education, thus further hindering the slow progress in achieving greater diversity in the accounting profession.
The current special issue reports seven empirical articles on diverse areas of inequality, ranging from the perception of economic inequality (who are concerned, what cues people use to perceive inequality in everyday life), the educational origin of income inequality, to the role of inequality in luxury consumption, prosocial behaviour, life satisfaction, and beliefs in upward and downward economic mobility. We first comment on these articles, then briefly review the current state of the psychology of inequality and point to future directions. Finally, we point out that a cultural psychological perspective is missing from the extant literature on the psychology of inequality. Namely, it is important to document how current systems of inequality are maintained and transmitted across generations in specific sociocultural contexts.
Chapter 6 aims to indicate how critical social psychological explorations of class can inform and shape ‘real-world’ settings and institutions. In doing so, the chapter focusses on three key domains within which it is already firmly established that class and income-based inequalities greatly impact people’s experiences and outcomes; these are education, psychological wellbeing and physical health. After reviewing some existing research in these respective areas, a number of recommendations are made for policy and practice (e.g. for educators and health practitioners). However, it is also recognised that institutions such as education and healthcare systems do not exist in a socio-economic and political vacuum, and therefore, we ultimately call for change at the most fundamental, politico-structural level.
Full-text available
University represents a pathway to upward social mobility for many working-class people. However, this distinctly middle-class environment also provides a number of unique social psychological challenges for working-class students. Working-class university students are often in the minority group at university, they are often the first in their families to attend university, and they often feel out of place at university. They also lack the time and money required to engage with other students on campus. Consequently, they are less likely to be as integrated into social life at university as their middle-class peers. In this chapter, we consider the potential implications of this lack of social integration for working-class students’ academic outcomes and mental health. In particular, we review recent research that shows that working-class students’ lack of integration at university is associated with poorer academic outcomes and poorer mental health. We conclude with a discussion of potential interventions to increase working-class students’ social integration at university.
Full-text available
Social psychology has studied ethnic, gender, age, national, and other social groups but has neglected education-based groups. This is surprising given the importance of education in predicting people's life outcomes and social attitudes. We study whether and why people evaluate education-based in-groups and out-groups differently. In contrast with popular views of the higher educated as tolerant and morally enlightened, we find that higher educated participants show education-based intergroup bias: They hold more negative attitudes towards less educated people than towards highly educated people. This is true both on direct measures (Studies 1-2) and on more indirect measures (Studies 3-4). The less educated do not show such education-based intergroup bias. In Studies 5-7 we investigate attributions regarding a range of disadvantaged groups. Less educated people are seen as more responsible and blameworthy for their situation, as compared to poor people or working class people. This shows that the psychological consequences of social inequality are worse when they are framed in terms of education rather than income or occupation. Finally, meritocracy beliefs are related to higher ratings of responsibility and blameworthiness, indicating that the processes we study are related to ideological beliefs. The findings are discussed in light of the role that education plays in the legitimization of social inequality.
Meritocratic ideology can promote system justification and the perpetuation of inequalities. The present research tests whether priming merit in the school context enhances the effect of socioeconomic status (SES) on school achievement. French fifth graders read a text priming either school merit or a neutral content, reported their French and mathematics self-efficacy as well as their belief in school meritocracy (BSM), and then took French and mathematics tests. Compared to the neutral condition, the merit prime condition increased the SES achievement gap. Self-efficacy and BSM were tested as two potential mediators of the effect. The results support a mediated moderation model in which belief in school meritocracy is the mechanism through which the merit prime increased the SES achievement gap.