Essays on the Structural and Cultural Determinants of Youths' Postsecondary Educational Outcomes

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Examining how structural and cultural factors shape postsecondary educational outcomes is at the heart of sociological research in education. However, although there has been a rich history in exploring these sociological concepts in education, many fundamental questions remain unanswered. Using data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS), this study extends existing research in the sociology of education by addressing two research questions that relate to how social structure and culture predict youths’ future postsecondary educational outcomes.

Pertaining to structural explanations of educational outcomes, I examine the first research question: do black youth benefit less from increases in their parents’ social class status on their college enrollment and educational attainment. Classic and contemporary studies show greater social class status is associated with higher levels of education for youth. However, racialized processes might constrain the benefits blacks receive from increases in parents’ social class. Therefore, I analyze whether race moderates the relationship between youths’ social class status during high school and two measures of postsecondary educational outcomes: (1) college enrollment two years post-high school and (2) educational attainment eight years post-high school. Results suggest black youth receive lower benefits from social class than whites for both outcomes, and parents’ gender plays a role in the racial differences in the link between social class and both outcomes.

Pertaining to cultural explanations of educational outcomes, I examine the second research question: does within-school variation in school culture during high school predict future college enrollment. Although many studies examine the role school culture—measured as the within-school average in schooling behaviors or beliefs—plays in shaping high school students’ decisions to attend college, few studies investigate how within-school variation in culture predicts college enrollment. Therefore, I analyze whether an association exists between college enrollment two years post-high school and within-school variation in school culture. Results suggest that students in public and private schools are less likely to enroll in college after attending a high school with greater within-school variation in culture. Results from this research question combined with the results of the first research question have implications for the study of structural and cultural factors in education research.






Bumpus, John P (2020). Essays on the Structural and Cultural Determinants of Youths' Postsecondary Educational Outcomes. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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