AbstractBeginning in the 1960s and up until the last decade of the twentieth century, the democratization of education has been the focus of a great deal of research. The aim of this article is first to show that definitions and results concerning the democratization of education in France can be ambiguous. The next step is to develop an alternative approach to the study of educational inequality. The approach is based on the study of trends in the duration of studies. The assembled data indicate that the gap between the duration of schooling of the students who stay in the school system for the longest time and those who leave it earliest has significantly widened between 1988 and 1998. When the cost of long and short study courses are factored in, the educational system is shown to have reinforced economic inequality. Education expenditure had a counter-redistributive effect, by benefiting more the students who stay for the longest time in school and come from well-to-do families, than those who stay for the shortest time, and originate overwhelmingly in the working class.