Cultural Deprivation theory holds that some groups, such as the lower social classes, have inferior norms, values, skills and knowledge which prevent them from achieving in education. Inferior language skills, and the fact that working class parents do not value education are largely to blame for working class underachievement, rather than material deprivation.
You might also hear ‘cultural deprivation’ theory referred to as ‘working class subculture theory’ – which is something of a throwback to the 1950s. Personally I don’t like the term, and so just use cultural deprivation theory, it’s a bit more modern!
All of the studies below suggest that working class cultures are deficient and that working class children are deprived as a result. These explanations thus put the blame for working class underachievement on the working class families themselves. In these explanations, working class parents basically teach their children norms and values that do not equip them for education in later life.
Five ways in which cultural deprivation can disadvantage children in education
- Working class parents may show a lack of interest in their children’s education
- Lower class parents are less able to help their children with homework
- Lower class children are more likely to speak in a restricted speech code. Rather than the elaborated speech code- Basil Bernstein argued this.
- Working class children are more concerned with Immediate Gratification rather than deferred gratification – Barry Sugarman argued this.
- The underclass has a higher than average percentage of single parent families. Melanie Philips argued this.
Supporting evidence for cultural deprivation theory
Connor et al (2001) conducted focus group interviews with 230 students from 4 different FE colleges from a range of class backgrounds, some of whom had chosen to go to university and some who had not chosen to go to University. The main findings were that working class pupils are discouraged from going to university for three main reasons:
- Firstly, such candidates want ‘immediate gratification’. They want to earn money and be independent at an earlier age. This is because they are aware of their parents having struggled for money and wish to avoid debt themselves
- Secondly, they realise that their parents cannot afford to support them during Higher Education and did not like the possibility of them getting into debt
- Thirdly, they have less confidence in their ability to succeed in HE.
Research by Leon Fenstein found that low income was related to the restricted speech code. His research revealed that children of working-class parents tend to be more passive; less engaged in the world around them and have a more limited vocabulary. Children from middle-class households had a wider vocabulary, better understanding of how to talk to other people and were more skilled at manipulating objects.
These studies actually show that cultural and material deprivation are related
Evaluations of cultural deprivation theory
- If we look at ethnicity and gender differences in achievement – to triangulate, it does seem that cultural factors play a role!
- It seems that it isn’t just cultural deprivation but also material deprivation that explains underachievement
- Marxists would argue that cultural deprivation theorists blame the working class parents for the underachievement of their children whereas these parents are really the victims of an unequal society in which schools are run by the middle classes for the middle classes.
Related External Posts – Useful
Earlham’s Pages – do their usual ‘overwhelming for anyone but an A* students whose interested in Sociology approach’ (personally I like it though, then again I’m several levels above both of those criteria) – lots of contemporary links at the top (no summaries) and then a useful overview of ‘class subcultures’ below.
Factors influencing class based differences in educational achievement – probably written by a student but it’s quite a useful summary!
Related External Posts – Not so Useful
The History Learning Site’s material is shockingly out of date – maybe useful for the history, but not so much for our contemporary era.