Social inequality: the gap between the highly educated and the poorly educated

Bob Bronshof

Jeroen van der Waal, Professor of Stratification Sociology at Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, worked as a sailor for ten years before starting his academic career when he left the mavo without a diploma. The world of both highly and less educated people is not unfamiliar to him. With his research, he focuses on the differences between the two groups. "Research shows that trust in politics, justice and science is less among people who are less educated," he says. "The question then arises: why is that?" says Van der Waal.

To find an answer to this question, Van der Waal talked to lower-educated people. This revealed that many lower-educated citizens feel a so-called cultural distance from scientists or politicians. They communicate differently, and have different interests. They also experience that they are looked down upon. "They experience real dedain. This appears in many ways to feed distrust in institutions", according to Van der Waal. That image is partly justified. "Mark Rutte once said that people who protested at an announcement of the siting of an asylum seekers' centre were wackos who should not be listened to."

Lack of representation

Van der Waal's research also shows that the lower educated experience no representation from the Lower House. This is not only about the positions, but also about whether they recognise themselves in politicians. "The way in which political parties scout and coach their talent leads to the fact that the person who emerges is someone the higher educated citizen is enthusiastic about, but the lower educated are not," says Van der Waal.

Narrowing the gap

"The pattern you see is very difficult to repair. I suspect that the gap will only widen. The segregation between high and low is also increasing when you look at who you enter into a relationship with, who you meet at work and where your children go to school. Those are two increasingly separate worlds." A possible solution lies with the higher educated, they need to get a better feel for the different worlds of experience, Van der Waal argues.

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