The Educational Expectations of South African Youth

By Beutel, Ann M.; Anderson, Kermyt G. | Sociological Focus, November 2007 | Go to article overview

The Educational Expectations of South African Youth


Beutel, Ann M., Anderson, Kermyt G., Sociological Focus


Educational expectations, in particular the relationship between race/ ethnicity and educational expectations, have been understudied in less developed countries. We use data from the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS) to examine the educational expectations of black (African), coloured (mixed race), and white (European ancestry) youth in Cape Town, South Africa. The educational expectations of all three racial groups are high, although coloured youth are less likely than black and white youth to expect to complete postsecondary or postgraduate schooling. Supporting research on educational expectations in the United States and other more developed countries, our findings indicate that socioeconomic status and academic performance matter for educational expectations in South Africa, although their importance varies by racial group. In contrast to U.S. studies that have found effects of family composition for whites only, we found virtually no effects of family composition on the educational expectations of whites or nonwhites. Our findings suggest possible similarities and differences across social contexts in the processes shaping the educational expectations of youth from disadvantaged groups.

Because of their potential to influence educational outcomes, educational expectations have been of considerable interest to sociologists. A great deal of research has examined educational expectations in the United States and other more developed countries (e.g., Buchmann and Dalton 2002; Cheng and Starks 2002; Hao and Bonstead-Bruns 1998; Hauser, Tsai, and Sewell 1983; Looker and Pineo 1983; Marjoribanks 2002; Sewell, Haller, and Portes 1969). Relatively few studies have investigated educational expectations in less developed countries (e.g., Adams, Wasikhongo, and Nahemow 1987; Forste, Heaton, and Haas 2004; Moller 1995; Post 1990), particularly the relationship between race/ethnicity and educational expectations. How educational expectations are formed in parts of the world with social structures that may differ from those in the United States and other more developed countries is not well understood.

South Africa presents an ideal location for considering how context may influence educational expectations, as a number of social and economic features distinguish it from the United States and other more developed countries. One is the tremendous economic stratification of the country. Wage inequality in South Africa is among the highest in the world, and unemployment rates are as high as 40% (Burger and Woolard 2005; Kingdon and Knight 2001; Klasen 1997; Leibbrandt, Woolard, and Woolard 2000). As a result, there is tremendous variation in access to educational capital, which may influence educational expectations. second is the nature of racial stratification in South Africa: under apartheid (the policy of extreme racial segregation practiced until the early 1990s), individuals were placed into one of three groups on the basis of race-an advantaged group composed of whites (those of European ancestry), a moderately disadvantaged group consisting of both coloureds (those of mixed race) and Asians (mostly from India), and a severely disadvantaged group made up of blacks (Africans) (e.g., Klasen 1997; Mwabu and Schultz 1996; Thomas 1996). Although de jure discrimination ended with the dismantling of apartheid, racial inequality persists in South Africa (e.g., Burgard and Treiman 2006; Burger and Woolard 2005; Charasse-Pouele" and Fournier 2006; Lestrade-Jefferis 2002). By studying educational expectations in a country with a clearly defined racial status hierarchy, we may improve our understanding of the relationship between race and educational expectations. Third, South Africa provides a different schooling context in which to examine educational expectations. For example, school fees (tuition) are generally charged for school enrollment, even for primary and secondary education. Last, dramatic social changes have occurred in South Africa over the past fifteen years.

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