Educational Expansion, School Sector and Social Stratification: Changing Mechanisms of Educational Inequality in Latin America

Open Access
Salinas, Daniel R
Graduate Program:
Educational Theory and Policy
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 10, 2014
Committee Members:
  • David P Baker, Committee Chair
  • Katerina Bodovski, Committee Member
  • Soo Yong Byun, Committee Member
  • Glenn A Firebaugh, Committee Member
  • Education
  • school expansion
  • inequality
  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • Private schools
  • stratification
My dissertation explores the relationship between the global trend of educational expansion and national patterns of educational and social stratification in Chile and Mexico during the last five decades. Research for developed nations suggests that in contexts of educational expansion, “horizontal” inequalities in the quality or type of education replace “vertical” differences in access to or amount of schooling. I build upon this research and seek to contribute to it through a comprehensive analysis of socioeconomic stratification between public and private schools in Chile and Mexico. I consider differences across countries, educational levels and over time, as well as long-term consequences on adult status attainment. Furthermore, I conduct a historical and institutional analysis of the origins and development of education in Latin America to provide a historically-grounded explanation of why school sector stratification is currently so high in Latin America compared to other world regions, and also why levels and patterns of school privatization and school sector stratification vary within Latin American countries. Chile has very high levels of educational expansion and educational privatization. Mexico, by contrast, has not yet achieved the levels of expansion observable in Chile. Mexico has one of the region's most statist and centralized educational systems, though privatization at secondary and tertiary educational levels is an emerging trend. The data I use in this study comes from two nationally representative social mobility surveys of adult men born between 1937 and 1976 in Chile (CSMS 2001) and 1947 and 1986 in Mexico (EMOVI-2011). Analyses follow a multinomial logistic regression and linear regression approach. Findings show that school sector stratification emerges in Chile as early as primary school, whereas in Mexico it becomes significant at the secondary level. School sector in primary school is a strong predictor of continuation and sector placement at subsequent school transitions in both countries. The probability of the upper strata attending a private high school has been very high and constant for the entire period under study in both countries; this suggests a relationship of reinforcement (rather than replacement) between vertical and horizontal educational advantages for the children of the elite. In Chile, the probability that middle-SES students will attend the public sector has declined at all levels in parallel to the increase in the chances of attending the private-subsidized sector, especially for those attending school after the voucher reform of the 1980s. This suggests a national trend of replacement for middle-SES groups. A second set of findings shows that private school attendance has significant direct effects on adult occupational attainment, net of family background and years of schooling; in Chile, occupational returns are larger for private primary schools, and for Mexico they are larger for private high schools. Also, there is a significant interaction effect in that attending a private school (at any level in Chile and at higher levels in Mexico) increases the occupational returns of each additional year of schooling. The occupational gap between public and private students has increased over time in Chile, whereas in Mexico it has remained stable. These finding contribute to the literature on education inequality by expanding current hypotheses about horizontal stratification in order to account for: a variety of organizational forms, including private schooling and school choice policies; the fact that horizontal differences appear as early as primary education, and have long-term consequences in adult occupational attainment; vertical and horizontal forms of educational stratification can relate to one another not only in terms of replacement, but also of reinforcement. In sum, this study of how Mexican and Chilean organizational differences in school provision affect educational opportunities informs the larger international discussion on the way the mechanisms of social stratification change as education as an institution expands and globalizes.