Cultural capital in early childhood
This thesis explores whether cultural capital is a source of educational inequalities within early childhood. This is an area with very little prior research despite: (i) early childhood playing a crucial role in the cultural capital literature; and (ii) cultural capital being a well-studied source of inequality in educational research and yet not really featuring in the large amount of research which focuses on early childhood educational inequalities. This thesis therefore aims to help bridge this divide between two large bodies of research. The two key questions this thesis sets out to explore are whether cultural capital is unequally distributed by a child’s socio-economic background and whether a child’s cultural capital has any educational benefits in early childhood. To answer these key questions, this thesis will employ data from the birth cohort study Growing Up in Scotland. This thesis will use data from when the first birth cohort are ten months old through to five years old. Early childhood is typically a period of great change and so having longitudinal data will allow me to look at whether cultural capital’s accumulation and any educational effects it has are consistent over time. I will utilise several different types of statistical models, including regression analysis, structural equation modelling and multilevel modelling. Cultural capital will be split into two separate components: reading and more formal cultural activities. This will be done to explore a debate in the literature on whether both of these components are educationally beneficial or whether it is simply the reading element. The key findings from this thesis suggest that children from more advantaged backgrounds have higher levels of cultural capital and also that cultural capital has a positive educational effect within early childhood. These two results in combination lead us to conclude that cultural capital might be seen as a source of educational inequality within early childhood. However, despite cultural capital’s positive educational effect, a number of other socio-economic factors, in particular social class, still have a large significant effect on a child’s educational ability. This suggests that cultural capital can only partially explain educational inequalities in early childhood and should be thought of as one of a number of sources of educational inequality. My results also suggested that a child’s cultural capital mediates the educational benefits of several aspects of parental influence. For instance, parental cultural capital’s educational benefits for a child seem to come entirely through a child’s cultural capital. I also found that cultural capital is educationally beneficial to children from all levels of socio-economic status. I found that both the reading and formal cultural activities components of a child’s cultural capital were educationally beneficial.