Explaining inequality? Rational action theories of educational decision making.

Ronald Thompson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter discusses the rational action perspective on social class differences in educational attainment. In this context, rational action theories derive from the distinction between the primary and secondary effects of social stratification made by Raymond Boudon, and seek to understand educational inequality through the decisions made by individuals and their evaluations of the costs and benefits associated with different educational routes. The chapter aims to evaluate the ability of these theories to account for observed patterns of stability and change in educational inequalities, particularly in higher education, and to highlight some of the reasons why the rational action approach has received relatively little attention within the sociology of education. Methodologically, the chapter presents a conceptual analysis based on critical appraisal of key theoretical literature and an evaluation of a range of empirical studies which aim to test rational action models of educational decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAccess to Higher Education
Subtitle of host publicationTheoretical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges
EditorsAnna Mountford-Zimdars, Neil Harrison
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781315684574
ISBN (Print)9781138924109, 9781138924116
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2016

Publication series

NameResearch into higher education

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    Thompson, R. (2016). Explaining inequality? Rational action theories of educational decision making. In A. Mountford-Zimdars, & N. Harrison (Eds.), Access to Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges (pp. 67-84). (Research into higher education). Abingdon: Routledge.