European Universities and Educational and Occupational Intergenerational Social Mobility

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European higher education systems in the last few decades have been in a period of intensive quantitative expansion. Both participation rates and student numbers in most European countries are still growing – but are the chances of young people from lower socioeconomic classes to enter universities higher than before? Under massification conditions, are the chances of young people from poorer backgrounds actually increasing, relative to increasing chances of young people from higher socioeconomic classes and wealthier backgrounds? Are both overall social mobility and relative social mobility of under-represented classes increasing at the same rate? That is a question about changing social mobility relative to the share of particular socioeconomic classes in the population as a whole. Social mobility in increasingly knowledge-driven economies is powerfully linked to equitable access to higher education. And the question of inequality in access to higher education is usually asked today in the context of educational expansion. Educational expansion, in most general terms, and in the majority of European countries studied, seems to be reducing inequality of access. There are ever more students with lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and ever more graduates whose parents had only primary education credentials. The chances of the latter to enter higher education are increasing across Europe but are still very low. The intergenerational patterns of transmission of education are still very rigid across all European systems: the offspring of the low-educated is predominantly low-educated; the offspring of the highly educated is predominantly highly educated. Structurally similar patterns can be shown for occupations: the offspring of those in the best occupations predominantly take best occupations, and the offspring of those in the worst occupations predominantly take the worst occupations, across all European countries (“best” being structurally similar and linked to both middle-class earnings and lifestyles in Europe. Equitable access to higher education is linked in this chapter empirically to the social background of students, viewed from two parallel perspectives: educational background of parents and occupational background of parents, and studied through the large-scale EU-SILC (European Union Survey on Income and Living Conditions) dataset.




social mobility, educational mobility, occupational mobility, social ladder, upward mobility, EU-SILC, Survey on Income and Living Conditions, Poland, European Union, higher education, social congestion, wage premium, European universities, educational expansion, capabilities approach, human capital, higher education research, European social policies, widening access, equitable access, equity, university graduates, social inequality, inequality reduction, labor market, labor market trajectories, inheriting education, inheriting occupations, social transmission, inheriting educational credentials, lower socioeconomic classes, risk ratios, chances, middle classes, young Europeans, European youth, Amartya Sen, education for all, graduate labor market, positional goods, European datasets, big data


In: Hans-Uwe Otto (ed.), “Making capabilities work – vulnerable young people in Europe and the issue of full citizenship”, Dordrecht: Springer, 2015, pp. 87-111.



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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego