Family Background, Cultural Capital and Access to Higher Education in Canada

Ross Finnie 1, Richard Mueller2, Stephen Childs1
1University of Ottawa, Canada, 2University of Lethbridge, Canada

This paper extends the growing literature on access to higher education by using a uniquely rich Canadian longitudinal dataset to relate access to a variety of detailed indicators of family environment, family habits, family wealth, and children’s experiences in the family setting. These measures include patterns of communication between parents and children, family support for their children’s learning, home resources related to educational activities, family wealth, “cultural” possessions and activities, reading habits, and more. Many of these factors turn out to be important correlates of post-secondary educational outcomes – university attendance in particular – even after controlling for other important family characteristics such as family income and parental education levels. While these relationships are not necessarily causal, they paint a rich portrait of the sorts of family background environments, habits and experiences that tend to lead on to higher education. This understanding could help policy makers develop initiatives to advance the goals of increasing PSE participation rates overall and improving PSE opportunities for disadvantaged youth in particular.

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