Educational Expansion and Inequality in Korea

Park, Hyunjoon
Working paper no. 2001-04


During the past few decades South Korea has experienced a remarkable expansion in its educational system, distinctive that there has been an extraordinary increase in both quantity and quality of education. Along with dramatic differences between the educational attainment of recent and older cohorts, educational policies that have emphasized competition and growth rather than equality of educational opportunity make Korea an excellent case by which to examine the effects of educational expansion on inequality in educational opportunity. Using 1990 data from the Social Inequality Study in Korea, the study examines trends in the influence of social background on educational attainment across three birth cohorts born between 1921 and 1970. Empirical findings suggest that despite massive expansion of the educational system, the impacts of social origin on educational transitions have not decreased over the period, though there is some evidence of narrowing gaps between persons who grew up in metropolitan areas and others. In particular, father’s education appears to have a significant effect on the likelihood of university entry for the youngest cohort.