Cultural capital and teacher bias: Illuminating the reproduction mechanism of inequality at schools

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


Social scientists have long considered teacher bias and cultural capital as one of the mechanisms whereby educational institutions reproduce social inequality. Students with higher cultural capital are likely to be treated by their teachers as possessing the "right culture" and thus rewarded. Nevertheless, students' cultural capital components and their relationship with teacher bias, including their gender difference, remain empirically elusive. In this study, using two waves of the China Educational Panel Survey (CEPS), we, therefore, investigate (1) what consists of students' cultural capital and how they are distributed in Chinese middle schools; (2) how students' cultural capital affects teachers' attitudes; and (3) how such associations vary between boys and girls. Deriving from seven items in CEPS, we first generate a composite index of students' cultural capital capturing multiple dimensions of the construct: familiarity with the legitimate culture, reading, and extracurricular activities. Fixed effects longitudinal models then show a substantially positive association between the amount of cultural capital and the frequency of teachers praising and asking questions to students in class across subjects. This significant linkage is confirmed even when controlling for in-variant unobserved confounders alongside students' cognitive skills, educational performance, self-confidence, and social capital. We also find that girls have a higher amount of cultural capital than boys, and the relationship between cultural capital and teacher bias is stronger among boys than girls as far as the frequency of asking questions is concerned, albeit not observed in other attitudes. Furthermore, autoregressive cross-lagged structural equation models confirm that (1) cultural capital affects teacher bias, not the other way around; and (2) a larger effect size of cultural capital compared to cognitive skills and performance. Thus, this study illuminates the largely assumed but empirically elusive effect of cultural capital on teacher bias, including its heterogeneity across gender in the Chinese context. These findings suggest the importance of addressing bias in the classroom incurred by students' cultural capital to promote social equality.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2021
EventThe 4th International Chinese Sociological Association (ICSA) Annual Conference - Online, China
Duration: 20 Nov 202121 Nov 2021


ConferenceThe 4th International Chinese Sociological Association (ICSA) Annual Conference
Abbreviated title2021 ICSA
Internet address


  • Cultural capital
  • Teacher bias
  • Inequality
  • Gender
  • China


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