From the Baccalauréat to higher education in France: shifting inequalities

By Marie Duru-Bellat, Annick Kieffer, Roger Depledge


INSEE’s most recent survey in 2003 makes it possible to evaluate changes in higher education in two birth cohort groups at either end of the period of rapid expansion in access to the baccalauréat (upper secondary exit examination) from 1985 to 1995. We examine how this opening up affected social inequalities in access to and success in higher education. The undeniable democratization of the baccalauréat has been followed by a more limited democratization in access to higher education. The first wave concentrated new working-class students in vocational baccalauréats; but owing to the strong links between secondary and higher education in France, these students’ options in higher education have been restricted as a consequence. In particular, access to the selective elite grandes écoles has seen no democratization among holders of the baccalauréat, whereas shorter vocational courses and non-selective university courses have opened up. This limits the effect on social mobility of democratization of education at this level, because career opportunities increasingly depend not so much on the level of qualification but on the subjects chosen.

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