Grodsky, Eric, Catherine Doren, Chandra Muller, and John Robert Warren. “Continuing Education and Stratification at Midlife.” (Invitation to Revise and Resubmit, Sociology of Education)
In this paper, we ask whether patterns of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic stratification are amplified or attenuated when we take a longer view of educational attainment. We also explore the extent to which levels of academic achievement and skills earlier in the life course continue to shape educational attainment toward midlife. Results based on data from the recently completed fifth follow-up of the sophomore cohort of High School and Beyond suggest that the educational attainment process is far from over as our respondents enter their 30s and 40s, with more than six of ten continuing their formal training during this period and four of ten earning an additional credential. Patterns of educational stratification at midlife are becoming more pronounced in some ways, as women pull further away from men in their educational attainments and parental education and high school academic achievement continue to shape educational trajectories at the baccalaureate level and beyond. However, African Americans gain on whites during this phase of life through continued formal (largely academic) training and slightly greater conditional probabilities of graduate or professional degree attainment and social background fails to predict earning an associate’s degree. While the complexities of these patterned processes of attainment fail to support our theory of stage-dependent stratification, the sheer magnitude of these educational shifts suggest the importance of understanding how they contribute to educational inequality across the life course.