Institutionalized Cultural Capital

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that a bachelor's degree is a form of institutionalized cultural capital? Learn more about institutionalized cultural capital and how it is related to social mobility. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.


When you hear people speak about having capital, what comes to mind? Most of us would automatically assume that having capital is related to finances. However, there is a different type of capital that we all possess but rarely speak about. This resource is called cultural capital, which refers to assets that we use to help gain a higher status in society. Knowing how to dress for interviews, obtaining a master's degree, and an artwork collection are all examples of cultural capital. There are three forms of cultural capital: embodied, objectified, and institutionalized. Embodied cultural capital is the incorporation of cultural attitudes and practices into one's self. Objectified cultural capital consists of cultural objects such as record collections, books, or a luxury sports car. Institutionalized cultural capital refers to recognition received from an institution, primarily through educational degrees or certifications. Let's take a closer look at institutionalized cultural capital.


Assume that you have just completed your Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) and all of the other requirements necessary to become a physician. Your degree is institutionalized cultural capital. The MD provides you with formal recognition for your cognitive skills and competence. People in society will accept that you are a competent doctor and look at you as a credible source for medical-related knowledge. Furthermore, people will give more weight to things that you say and you will be legally permitted to work as a practicing medical doctor thanks to your academic credentials. Your MD is also useful in the labor market. The MD allows you to describe your qualifications as a medical professional, and employers looking for medical professionals can use the MD as a means to find and compare potential employees.

Prior to obtaining your MD, you received $25,000 as a yearly stipend from your university. Once you completed your MD and became a practicing physician, your yearly earnings increased to $150,000. Here you can see how your institutionalized capital (i.e. your degree) helped increase your earnings, which put you in a higher income bracket and increased your social status. In fact, by completing your degree you more than quadrupled your income!

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