Social inequality in access to prestigious fields of study: The interplay of students’ application behavior and universities’ selection procedures


This project studies social inequalities in access to prestigious fields of studies. These fields are of interest as not only a tertiary educational degree but also the fields of study completed influence future labor market attainment. For the centrally restricted and highly selective programs in medicine and pharmacy, we investigate whether and how universities’ recruitment procedures and criteria and their interplay with applicants’ individual characteristics and application behavior contribute to social inequality in access to these prestigious fields. We use register data provided by the Stiftung fuer Hochschulzulassung and a linked online survey, conducted by the WZB. The aim of the project is to better understand whether and why universities’ recruitment procedures and criteria influence admission chances differently for applicants from lower and higher social backgrounds. We will explore the importance of so-called primary effects of social stratification (i.e., based on performance) and secondary effects (based on educational decisions and application strategies, net of differences in performance). The project will provide new insights in how social inequalities in access to prestigious fields of studies (and related occupations) are generated by institutional barriers and which recruitment procedures and criteria are particularly disadvantageous for applicants from lower social background.

Main content

Selected Publications

Finger, Claudia/Solga, Heike/Elbers, Benjamin (2024): "Social Inequality in Admission Chances for Prestigious Higher Education Programs in Germany. Do Application Patterns Matter?". In: European Sociological Review, advance access, 25.04.2024, online:
Müller-Hilke, Brigitte/Finger, Claudia/Hampe, Wolfgang (2024): "Neues Zulassungsverfahren Humanmedizin. Höhere individuelle Gerechtigkeit, aber Verstärkung des Landarztmangels?". In: Bundesgesundheitsblatt, Gesundheitsforschung, Gesundheitsschutz, Jg. 67, H. 2, S. 225-232.
Finger, Claudia/Solga, Heike (2023): "Test Participation or Test Performance. Why Do Men Benefit from Test-Based Admission to Higher Education?". In: Sociology of Education, Vol. 96, No. 4, S. 344-366. (vorab online publiziert 10.07.2023)
Finger, Claudia/Wetter, Rebecca/Solga, Heike (2023): "Zugang zu medizinischen und pharmazeutischen Studiengängen in Deutschland: Bewerber*innenbefragung (Wintersemester 2018/19). Version 1.0.0.". 1.0.0. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB), online: (veröffentlicht).
Finger, Claudia (2022): "(Mis)Matched College Aspirations and Expectations. The Role of Social Background and Admission Barriers". In: European Sociological Review, Vol. 38, No. 3, S. 472-492. (vorab online publiziert 15.11.2021)
Wetter, Rebecca/Finger, Claudia (2022): "Wie Ungleichheit verstanden wird. Eigene Erfahrungen beeinflussen, ob junge Erwachsene an Erfolg durch Anstrengung oder an den Zufall glauben /". In: WZB-Mitteilungen, H. 3=Nr. 177, S. 18-21.