Rwandan society and the 'paradox of Anderson'

The paradox of Anderson is an empirical paradox whereby the acquisition by a student of a higher degree than his father does not necessarily ensure a higher social status.

The paradox of Anderson is an empirical paradox whereby the acquisition by a student of a higher degree than his father does not necessarily ensure a higher social status.

This paradox was highlighted by the American sociologist Charles Arnold Anderson in 1961. For him, the relative social status of sons seems practically independent of their relative level of education.

This paradox is directly related to another phenomenon that sociologists call “credential (degrees) inflation”.

Sociology grasps the reality like this: as everyone takes individually the same decision in the same time, at the end the result is a perverse effect of aggregation which is a decrease of the share performance of graduation: tendentiously, an identical degree gives access to social positions lower than those of parents, except for diplomas lying on top of the hierarchy, if the hierarchy remains unchanged, that cannot be upgraded.

 The phenomenon is similar to a monetary inflation. As the same school qualification (degree) is being held by several and many agents, it loses its relative effectiveness [...].

Everything then depends on the relative rate of change of the educational structure vis-à-vis the social positions.

However, despite the appearance of this phenomenon of a relative inflation of degrees, it is noted that normally in this situation, those who present themselves on the labour market with asuperior degree will still have more chances of eventually getting hired, usually more easily than those who present with lower qualifications.

As it has been highlighted by the authors Merllié D. and J. Prévot (in the book: La mobilité sociale, La Découverte, Paris, 1991), diplomas may appear both more necessary and less sufficient. In short, we may well say that the social mechanisms often prove very complex.

In addition, several sociologists, including Raymond Boudon, tried to provide an answer to this paradox of Anderson.

In the early 1970s, Boudon (in one of his books entitled: L’inégalité des chances. La mobilité sociale dans les sociétés industrielles, Armand Colin, Paris, 1973) developed a model to understand the paradox of Anderson and showed that the paradox is only paradoxical in appearance, and explains why social mobility does not vary significantly in (industrial) societies.

Ultimately, R. Boudon shows that a diploma of a son analogous to that one of his father more often leads to stagnation of social status and a lower degree to a downgrade.

Anderson’s table does not really change the idea that the relative increase in the level of education is a very strong asset to the relative improvement of social status.

Anyway, deciding to engage in higher education, with all that this often represent as various costs and sacrifices, people generally base their decision on “ rational choice theory”.

Briefly, we remind that the “rational choice” or “rational decision” is a generic term used to refer, in fact not one theory but several theories of action developed, especially in Economics, where they are a dominant paradigm, and in Sociology, where they compete with other sociological paradigms.

Generally, these theories attribute rational behaviour to agents that allows them, in front of a number of possible choices, to engage in conduct able to generate a benefit (or the lesser evil, in the negative case).

Among the followers and supporters of “rational choice theory” in the field of sociology, we just mentioned, among others, the French sociologist Raymond Boudon.

In Rwanda, after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the new political leadership eliminated the main barriers of discrimination based on ethnicity, region of provenience and even on social origin which, in education, have long prevented some young Rwandans access to education, especially secondary and higher education.

And since the halt of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and the end of war of liberation of the country we started to enjoy the liberalisation and democratisation of education in Rwanda.

In education, this new inclusive and integrative policy which, without any doubt, is based on a clear vision of profound and positive transformation of the country, therefore, generally caused some overcrowding in education at all levels.

Currently, each unemployed Rwandan is well aware that it would be difficult to hope to find a job if you do not hold a degree, at least the second cycle of higher education. Indeed, in terms of job search, we note that the competition now proves tough!

However, in reality, this sociological phenomenon is not so surprising for knowledgeable people, because we know that, here as elsewhere; the economic system generally cannot change as fast as the education system.

Nonetheless, we do not intend to say that, where this phenomenon occurs, policy makers have no alternative to deal with the problem of relative unemployment.

Since, in theory, the phenomenon is sociologically well known, it is primarily the responsibility of policy makers to take adequate measures to, if not to prevent or totally eliminate unemployment, at least make it less harsh.

The writer is a lecturer at INATEK (Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Education of Kibungo)




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