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What does class origin and education mean for the capabilities of agency and voice?
Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.
2015 (English)In: British Journal of Sociology of Education, ISSN 0142-5692, E-ISSN 1465-3346, Vol. 36, no 2, 291-312 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article investigates the relationship between class origin, educational attainment, and the capabilities of agency and voice. The main objectives are to investigate how class origin and educational attainment interact and to consider whether higher education reduces any structural inequalities in the social aspects of life. A longitudinal approach is applied, using a national survey of 1058 Swedish young people, controlling for baseline values of agency and voice. The empirical analysis reveals an association between class origin and agency and voice. University education proves to be of central importance for the capabilities of agency and voice; however, this varied for young people with different class origin. Young people from manual working-class backgrounds benefit from higher education, while no significant result was found for young people with white-collar parents. The results indicate that higher education reduces structural differences in capabilities central for social participation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2015. Vol. 36, no 2, 291-312 p.
Keyword [en]
class origin, education, agency, voice
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-79954DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2013.820126ISI: 000349247500006OAI: diva2:646644
Available from: 2013-09-09 Created: 2013-09-04 Last updated: 2015-12-17Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Non-market outcomes of education: the long-term impact of education on individuals' social participation and health in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Non-market outcomes of education: the long-term impact of education on individuals' social participation and health in Sweden
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In research, it is typical to analyse and discuss the utility of education in economic terms—specifically the market value of a particular degree or the financial returns associated with additional years in higher education. However, education may also generate outcomes that belong to the non-market sphere, such as open-mindedness, societal cohesion, community involvement, better health, and gender equality; yet these outcomes have received little scholarly attention. The main objective of this thesis, therefore, is to investigate the relationship between education and four non-market outcomes: agency, voice, health behaviour and psychological distress. By utilizing two longitudinal data sets, the Swedish Survey of Living Conditions and the Northern Swedish Cohort, it is possible to assess the long-term effects of education on each of these four non-market outcomes.

Results clearly demonstrate that education has a critical impact on each of the outcomes of interest. Having a higher education—and in particular a university degree–enhances individuals’ agency and voice, reduces psychological distress, and improves individuals’ health behaviour. Further, results show that different academic subjects generate field-specific resources. In contrast to a market perspective, where the value of the specific field of study is assessed only in economic terms, results indicate that fields that are commonly viewed as having low market value may actually yield non-economic rewards that benefit individuals in critically important ways.

Analyses also show that individual and social factors shape the extent to which education leads to positive outcomes. In terms of agency and voice, results indicate that education can compensate for social differences. Among those with a working class background, earning a university degree contributes to increasing levels of agency and voice, while no significant effects of education exist for those with a white-collar background. Results also demonstrate that the impact of education on psychological well-being differs for men and women. For men, labour market resources (i.e., being employed) was important for reducing psychological distress, while for women social resources (i.e., having a partner) was more important.

Due to its use of high quality, longitudinal data, this thesis makes a significant contribution to the scholarly literature and to what we know about the impact of education attainment. A limitation of cross-sectional analyses is that it is difficult to separate causal effects from selection effects. By adopting a longitudinal approach, it is possible to control for earlier (baseline) circumstances and therefore assess the causal impact of education on individual outcomes. This strategy yields robust results that make clear the long-term effects of educational attainment on individuals.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2014. 38 p.
Akademiska avhandlingar vid Sociologiska institutionen, Umeå universitet, ISSN 1104-2508 ; 74
education, non-market outcomes, agency, voice, health behaviour, psychological distress, longitudinal design, capability approach, Sweden
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-88369 (URN)978-91-7601-051-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-05-30, Hörsal 1031, Norra beteendevetarhuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2014-05-09 Created: 2014-05-05 Last updated: 2014-05-09Bibliographically approved

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Strandh, MattiasBrännlund, Annica
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