Opportunity without Equity: Educational Inequality and Constitutional Protections in Egypt

Michelle Jackson, Elizabeth Buckner

Sociological Science, August 24, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a31



The claim that the law can be an inequality-reducing weapon is a staple of legal and political discourse. Although it is hard to dispute that legal provisions sometimes work to reduce inequality, we argue that, at least in the domain of equal opportunity in education, the pattern of these effects can be more perverse than has typically been appreciated. Positive laws implemented in the name of promoting equality of opportunity may yield only a narrowly formal equality, with the goal of substantive equality undermined because a high-profile reform will often expose the pathway to educational success. The pathway, once exposed, can then be navigated and successfully subverted by the socioeconomically advantaged. We illustrate such pitfalls of a positive legal approach by examining educational inequality in Egypt, a country with long-standing constitutional protections for equality of opportunity in education. Using data recently collected from a cohort of young people, we show that despite the institutional commitments to equality of opportunity present in Egypt, privileged families have a range of options for subverting the aims of positive legal provisions. We argue that the pattern of educational inequality in Egypt is distinctive relative to countries without similar legal protections.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Michelle Jackson: Department of Sociology, Stanford University
Email: mvjsoc@stanford.edu

Elizabeth Buckner: Teachers College, Columbia University
Email: esb2174@tc.columbia.edu

Acknowledgements: We thank David Cox, Corey Fields, Jared Furuta, David Grusky, Tomás Jiménez, Paolo Parigi, Deborah Rhode, Aliya Saperstein, Steffen Schindler,
Adam Swift, Robb Willer, Cristobal Young, Patricia Young, and participants at the RC28 Spring Meeting 2013 (Trento) and at the College for Interdisciplinary Educational Research 2016 (Berlin) for their comments on an earlier version of this article. We would also like to express our appreciation to Stephen Morgan and the Sociological Science reviewers, who offered incisive and helpful comments on the article.

  • Citation: Jackson, Michelle, and Elizabeth Buckner. 2016. “Opportunity without Equity: Educational Inequality and Constitutional Protections in Egypt.” Sociological Science 3: 730-756.
  • Received: March 4, 2016
  • Accepted: May 5, 2016
  • Editors: Stephen Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a31

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