• Socio-economic background;
  • educational participation;
  • persistent inequality;
  • trends;
  • maximally maintained inequality thesis;
  • higher education


The paper addresses several debates surrounding the reproduction of socio-economic inequality: (i) the persistent inequality thesis, which maintains that despite the increases in educational participation socio-economic inequalities in education have not declined; (ii) the related thesis of maximally maintained inequality, which proposes that socio-economic inequalities decline only when participation levels for the most privileged socio-economic group approach saturation levels; (iii) the meritocracy debate on the importance of ability vis-á-vis socio-economic background and changes in its influence over time; and (iv) the effect of policy changes on socio-economic inequalities in education. These issues are addressed using data from six Australian youth cohorts born between 1961 and the mid-1980s.