Educational Attainment and Social Class

Education and social class are very closely related; although it is not plain to see at first, the connection is far more obvious after a closer look. The general idea is this: the higher one’s education level, the more money they will make in their lifetime. In other words, someone with a college or graduate degree will usually make more money than someone with a high school diploma or only some college credit. One’s education level has a high correlation with their social class: members of the upper class are the ones with the doctorates, while the members of the middle and lower classes have significantly lower educational attainment.

Educational attainment can be defined as the highest level of education that an individual has completed. We often find that educational attainment is passed down through generations. Because they have a significantly higher income, the individuals in the upper class are able to pay for the higher education of their children. After obtaining a degree (or more than one), their children are more likely to have a higher income, which allows them to send their children to a prestigious college or university, and so on and so forth. Most colleges and universities are more likely to accept an applicant whose parent attended the school. These applicants are called legacy students. For example, if two students with the exact same qualifications (GPA, SAT scores, etc.) applied for one spot at Harvard, but only one of them is a legacy student, the legacy student is more likely to be accepted.

In previous years, lifetime income was mainly based on race. White people had a higher income, on average, than minorities in America. It was the same for college admissions: white students were more likely to be accepted to any given college or university than students from minority backgrounds. However, the affirmative action policy has almost reversed this. Colleges and universities across the country are aiming to have more diversity, which makes them more likely to accept minority students rather than white students, no matter what their financial history. For example, if a white student and a black student apply for one spot at a college, and they have the same academic and financial background, the black student will be admitted. Because of affirmative action, college admissions and lifetime income have nothing to do with race, and everything to do with social class.

Students of the upper class have more advantages before they even begin to consider higher education. By simply growing up in a wealthy area, their education is automatically better than a student of the middle or lower class. In affluent areas, property taxes are higher, and higher property taxes lead to better public schools (teachers have higher salaries, the school itself has better resources, etc.). Although wealthy families have access to these higher quality public schools, some still choose to send their children to private school. In addition to private schools providing an even better education, students who graduated from private high schools are more likely to be accepted to more prestigious colleges and universities. This even applies to non-legacy students; if they graduated from a private high school, they will be more likely to be accepted by any given college or university, whether they decide to be a legacy student or not.

Many lower and middle class communities do not have the same resources in their schools as the affluent communities do. Lower class schools often lack the proper resources, which lead to a decrease in overall academic progress in the school and an increase in dropout rates. Because affluent schools lead to better student progress, they often get more funding than lower class schools, even though the lower class schools are the ones that need it. This creates a cycle; the good schools stay good, and the bad schools stay bad.

It is easy to see that education attainment and social class are correlated. The more education one has, the higher their income will be in their lifetime; the less education, the lower their income. Because they have the resources necessary for higher education, families of the upper class remain qualified and have high incomes for generations. Any given child’s upbringing, their college admissions process, and eventually their lifetime income all prove that education and social class are directly related.


In W1, I wrote about social classes a whole and, namely, the way that the thoughts and actions of the upper class affect the middle and lower classes. I decided to focus in on education in this piece. The education system in America has been a point of interest for me since I took sociology in high school and noticed all the flaws in the system. For W1, I didn’t do any research, but for this piece I found a couple of online articles and I was able to build on their ideas. The articles also helped me to fact-check and use more facts and statistics rather than opinions in my writing. I also tried to use real-world examples to help the reader better understand what I’m trying to say (such as when I used the example of affirmative action).