Where does personal culture come from? Implications of educational social mobility in the Chinese cultural change

Francisco OLIVOS, Peng WANG

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentationPresentation


An ongoing debate in cultural sociology discusses how culture change occurs. The evidence indicates that individuals seldom update their personal culture. Instead, changes are driven by generational replacement. These findings suggest that most of the personal culture in adulthood is part of dispositions settled in early life stages during socialization. However, college education has been suggested as one of the potential mechanisms that could lead to changes in the personal culture. Thus, people who attain higher education are more likely to update culture. This study builds on this literature to ask whether intergenerational educational mobility can contribute to these changes. The central hypothesis is that upwardly and downwardly mobile individuals are informed by the experience of different social origins and destinations. Therefore, their personal culture is explained by both experiences, and not only early socialization as suggested by settled dispositions theory. We test these two competing hypotheses using a large of attitudes, beliefs, self-assessments, self-perceptions, and social behaviors that were asked in the 2018 China Family Panel Survey. Since Chinese educational expansion brings intergenerational mobility into sharper relief, this case study is particularly relevant to studying education's implications for cultural change.


ConferenceChina and Higher Education 2021 Conference
Abbreviated titleChinaHE21
OtherInternationalization of higher education in and outside of China continues to face unprecedented challenges, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following campus closures in many countries, immediate concerns in the international higher education sector focused on issues such as financial instability (IAU, 2020) and (im)mobility of international students (Mok et al., 2021). China was placed at the forefront of such discussions due to the country’s status as both a leading source country for international students (OECD, 2021) and significant host of international students from other countries (Wen & Hu, 2019). Yet, questions about the role of China and international higher education were raised well before the current global health crisis. For example, Chinese students have increasingly questioned the value of an international higher education degree (Huang & Turner, 2018). Scholars have similarly argued that the value and benefits of international higher education unevenly impact different social groups (Rizvi, 2019). Mobility in particular has been given a spotlight in this debate, considering the tendency for elite, privileged groups to have the greatest opportunities to be internationally mobile (Brooks & Waters, 2011). Many in the field of international higher education believe a broad-based crisis for global higher education is emerging; one major consequence is intensifying inequality in the post-pandemic period. Other scholars have questioned how the sector might respond moving forward into a ‘post-mobility world’ (White & Lee, 2020). Last year, our #ChinaHE focused on ‘uncertain futures’ and the ways that uncertainty underpinned much of the experiences in higher education in the immediate post-pandemic period. In this year’s #ChinaHE21 conference, we seek to shift attention towards how the sector has and will continue to respond to the wide range of challenges that have been previously outlined. Against this broader socio-political context, the conference will critically reflect upon the future trends and developments of China and international higher education. More specifically, this conference will focus on issues related to how the current global health crisis affects the motivations and patterns of international student and academic mobility, to and from China, and the future of China’s role in international higher education.
Internet address


  • Personal culture
  • China
  • Social mobility
  • Cultural change


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