Assessing the changing influence of Cultural and Social Capital with respect to UK Higher Education Participation across different cohorts

Research output: Other contribution


In this thesis we provide evidence that cultural and social factors are significantly associated with Higher Education (HE) participation in the UK. This is important because the current UK HE literature focuses almost exclusively on individual and family background characteristics. We argue that a more complete understanding of cultural and social influences has the potential to make significant contributions to our understanding of HE participation and that research in this area may highlight an underutilised policy avenue for achieving Widening Participation (WP) objectives. This thesis begins with a literature review in which we model an individual’s HE participation decision (using a Human Capital approach) and present some recent evidence relating to the association with individual and family background characteristics. We then introduce the concepts of Cultural and Social Capital and argue how these might affect HE participation. In our first empirical investigation we present evidence which reveals that particular elements of Cultural and Social Capital are significantly associated with an individual’s likelihood of HE participation, using two well-researched British birth cohorts (1958 and 1970). Our second piece of empirical work builds on these findings in two ways: first, by investigate whether measures of Cultural and Social Capital retain significant associations with HE participation, using a more recent cohort of individuals (born between 1989 and 1990); second, by investigating whether additional measures of Habitus (embodied Cultural Capital) and contextual sources of Social Capital also appear important. The results of this study reaffirm our earlier findings, whilst additional significant associations are apparent. Our third empirical investigation, which also uses this more recent cohort, aims to identify whether school attended (and their characteristics) exhibits an independent association with HE participation. Here we find that this appears to be the case, whilst our prior findings remaining largely unchanged.
Original languageEnglish
TypePhD Thesis
Number of pages403
Publication statusUnpublished - Sep 2018


  • Higher Education
  • Cultural Capital
  • Social Capital

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