Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. HamiltonPaying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality

Harvard University Press, 2013

by marshall poe on August 9, 2013

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Big Ideas] One of the basic rules of human behavior is that people generally want to do what their peers do. If your friends like jazz, you’ll probably like jazz. If your friends want to go to the movies, you’ll probably want to go to the movies. If your friends enjoy comic books, you’ll probably enjoy comic books.

The force of peer pressure is likely strongest in high school, but college is not far behind. In their eye-opening book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality (Harvard UP, 2013), Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton examine how peer groups and the pressure they create move college students into specific tracks. Though students’ aspirations at the time of entry matter to some extent, the peer groups they join matter much more in terms of outcomes, that is, how they do during their college experience. College students mold themselves to the expectations of their groups. Armstrong and Hamilton also note a distinctive class element in the process of peer group formation and entry. Not everyone gets to belong to any group. Listen in and find out how these groups–which, it should be said,are largely hidden from administrators and professors–maintain socio-economic inequality.

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