Historical change in an elite profession—Class origins and grades among law graduates over 200 years
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionBritish Journal of Sociology. 2021, 72 (3), 651-671. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12852
This article explores the relationship between social class and educational achievement measured by grades among Norwegian law graduates over a span of 200 years. We argue that class inequalities may arise due to mechanisms favouring ‘insiders’, meaning students whose families have legal backgrounds. Alternatively, a broader category of students with origins in educated or elite families could also enjoy special advantages. Our results indicate that there were insignificant class inequalities in grades before the beginning of the 20th century, when they first appeared, and that class inequalities increased to some extent subsequently. Graduates with origins from families with legal backgrounds or origins in the cultural upper class tend to be awarded the highest grades and those with farming or working-class origins tend to be awarded the lowest grades. Inequalities according to class origin can be explained only to a limited extent by performance at secondary school. Unlike class origin, however, the impact of grades at secondary school appears to be highly stable over time. We ask whether mechanisms favouring legal ‘insiders’ may have become less important over time, whereas the impact of cultural capital may have increased.