PIERRE BOURDIEU'S THEORY OF CAPITAL AND PARENTAL SCHOOL CHOICE DECISIONS: A NATIONAL STUDY
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Sociology. American University
School choice, whereby parents choose their child's school rather than send them to their geographically assigned school, has been heavily researched from multiple angles and perspectives over the course of the past two decades. Both advocates and opponents of school choice have argued the benefits and detriments related to allowing parents to self-select their children's schools. This study seeks to uniquely study the topic through the sociological lens of theorist Pierre Bourdieu. Using the National Household Education Survey (NHES), the study operationalizes, applies, and quantitatively analyzes the effect of Bourdieu's four forms of capital; economic, cultural, symbolic, and social, on parental school choice decisions and their reasons for doing so. Results indicate that cultural, economic, and symbolic capital are all valid predictors of school choice, such that those with high levels of capital will be more likely to choose a school for their child than those with low levels of these forms of capital. Results also found that parents with higher levels of cultural and economic capital were more likely to choose their child's school for academic reasons, while those with lower levels of cultural and economic capital were more likely to report choosing their child's school for logistical or practical reasons.The study's findings, through their operationalization and application, are an important contribution to Bourdieu's theory of capital, lending powerful support to the way that the forms of capital are reproduced to the next generation. The findings also provide warning that school choice may not be equitable, and that differences between those who choose and their reasons for doing so could be another source of the reproduction of social stratification.
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