The social stratification of competences beyond compulsory schooling. An international comparison


Education is a double-edged sword in the stratification process. On the one hand, it is an instrument of social mobility, since through competence development individuals can enhance their social position. On the other hand, it contributes to the reproduction of social inequalities; in particular, through the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and skills, individuals of privileged background can maintain their dominant position in the class structure. Comparative studies have shown that whether one aspect prevails over the other depends to a large extent on the organizational structure of educational systems.
Given the nearly universal nature of primary and secondary schooling in industrialized societies – accompanied by a process of expansion and differentiation of higher education – the effect of parental class on post-compulsory educational outcomes is a relevant aspect of social stratification. However, due to a lack of reliable comparable data on adults’ competences, several questions have long remained unaddressed. (1) To what extent does family background affect the development of key competences for young adults? (2) Do these effects vary across educational systems? (3) Are countries with fairly egalitarian primary and lower-secondary school systems likewise egalitarian when it comes to post-compulsory education?
In this project, I address these research questions by exploiting large scale assessments of cognitive skills. In particular, by exploiting the similarities in the conceptual frameworks of the PISA 2000 and PIAAC 2012 assessments of competences in literacy and numeracy, I follow the same birth cohort over time and I assess the degree to which, in each of the 21 OECD countries under scrutiny, social inequalities in competence development widen or narrow after the end of compulsory schooling. By means of qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), I then investigate whether and how cross-country differences in the magnitude of these effects can be explained by institutional configurations, in terms of access and differentiation of the upper-secondary and tertiary levels of educational systems.
The project is partly funded by the College for Interdisciplinary Educational Research (CIDER), a joint initiative of the BMBF, the Jacobs Foundation and the Leibniz Association.