After WW2, in Italy higher education has expanded, but not as spectacularly as in other countries. This essay reviews historical changes in higher education structures, policies and outcomes, with a focus on social inequalities. Using multivariate analysis of a large population survey (Indagine multiscopo of 1998, comprising 59,050 individual cases), the following conclusions are reached: 1) gender disparities in the attainment of higher education credentials have disappeared from the 1970s onward; 2) class inequalities in the odds of attaining a university degree decrease progressively but modestly, not ceasing to be significant; 3) parental credentials are the most important factor accounting for individuals' probabilities of achieving a tertiary-level degree; 4) while class effects are slightly on the decline, cultural capital effects have consolidated after the university reform of 1969; and 5) parental education is especially influential at the extreme ends, as an amplifier of graduation chances for sons and daughters of graduate fathers and as a handicap for the offspring of parents with only primary-level degrees.
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