Reconceptualising the role of schooling in intergenerational social mobility: Patterns, perspectives and experiences from rural Pakistan

Change log
Naveed, Muhammad Arif 

Whether schooling can be a potent force for creating a just society depends on its role in improving the life chances of individuals and households. This thesis evaluates the take up of mass schooling in rural Pakistan and examines whether the agenda of Education For All has been sufficiently strong to promote greater intergenerational social mobility especially in such contexts where customs, traditions and economic realities of poverty play such a major part. This thesis identifies new relevant theoretical, methodological and analytical frameworks with which to analyse empirically the dialectic relationship between the role of mass schooling and the rural social structure of the country.

This thesis develops a triangulated, mixed-methods research design to offer: (a) a critical analysis of the national educational policies and economic visions during 1947-2010; (b) a statistical analysis of longitudinal datasets of rural households (1986-2014) using mobility metrics, ordered logistic regression, OLS regression and Fixed Effect models to track the patterns of intergenerational educational mobility and its role in social mobility; and, (c) insights generated form qualitative data gathered through fieldwork in a rural Punjab community using semi-structured interviews with 23 members of eight families (mothers, fathers and sons/daughters), and four key informants. The metanarrative constructed through policy analysis uncovered the political rationale for the expansion of education in relation to economic and social goals. It illustrates the periods and critical moments, since independence, when the Pakistan government and its economic and educational policy-makers discursively framed the role of schooling as promoting the goals of meritocracy, reforming the social order, and addressing the continuing problems caused by poverty and disadvantage and social exclusion. The statistical analysis reveals the changing patterns of association of paternal schooling levels and maternal literacy with the schooling levels of sons and daughters between 1986-2010, as well as the mediating effects of economic status and landownership. The analysis uncovers the existence of an S-shaped education system where those at the top of the educational and economic distribution maintained their advantage over generations. Those located in the middle strata experienced educational mobility, whilst those at the bottom of this stratification remained trapped, experiencing little change over generations despite the expansion of education between 1986- 2010. Regression analysis establishes an increasing role of fathers’ schooling in predicting sons’ schooling whilst the level of mothers’ literacy predicts the level of daughters’ schooling. While there was a weakening of the effects of economic status on sons’ schooling, these effects were strengthened for daughters’ schooling during 1986-2010.

The statistical analysis also established a high rate of intergenerational economic mobility as measured by household consumption expenditure, income and wealth which was strongly mediated by the educational levels of household members. The households whose male and female members experienced upward intergenerational educational mobility over the 28 years also experienced high upward economic mobility. There were higher additional economic returns to higher levels of schooling, and the long-range returns to schooling of female family members were significantly higher than that of male members. Importantly, households that spent a higher share of their consumption expenditure on schooling experienced high long- term economic returns. The downward economic mobility of households with unschooled/low schooled members pointed towards a profound role of schooling in shaping the patterns of economic inequality over generations.

The analysis of qualitative data identified the gendered values, meanings and strategies for social mobility in the wake of the rise of mass schooling. Families seemed to prepare sons for their economic success and daughters for their marital success which is described by a concept of maritocracy (marriage to a more educated and higher social status husband). The village case study demonstrated the role of schooling in social mobility through the lens of social conflict and social closure. Privileged families (the landowner, the higher castes, those identified with the majority religion) adapted a range of the exclusionary social closure strategies to monopolise resources and opportunities. In contrast, underprivileged families relied on a range of inclusionary usurpation strategies to escape their domination and to secure better futures for their children. The case study illustrates that any transformative potential of schooling is heavily mediated by local community power relations that shape life chances of individuals.

The thesis offers a model of social mobility appropriate for the study of the impact of the rise of mass schooling in economic and social change in Pakistan. It demonstrates the possibility of adapting and developing an economic and sociological understanding of intergenerational mobility models that takes account of the social forces such as the government agendas for educational expansion within low income contexts, and the ways in which various forms of rural social structure mediate the uptake of such educational expansions over generations and across gender, and the economic and social returns to such schooling. This thesis demonstrates the potential of a highly interdisciplinary approach and mixed methods research design in uncovering the microlevel social and economic change over generations resulting from the rise of mass schooling in the context of rural Pakistan.

Arnot , Madeleine
Vignoles, Anna
intergenerational social mobility, social and economic outcomes of schooling, educational economic and social inequality
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust