Working Papers

The Structure, Causes, and Consequences of Tracking in the Danish Education System

Authors: Jesper Fels Birkelund, Kristian Bernt Karlson and David Reimer

This report provides an overview over the institutional configuration of the Danish educational system and its development over time with a focus on inequalities in educational attainment. We draw on population data from Danish administrative registers and we describe the development of educational attainment including track choices and field of study specializations for individuals born from 1960-1986. This cohort range was chosen in light of relevant institutional reforms of the Danish school system that led to changes in between- or within-school tracking. However, the bulk of our analyses that provide a detailed picture of tracking and tracking consequences, are based on the 1975 cohort. The first chapter provides a description of the basic structure of the Danish educational system and highlights some of the major educational reforms. In chapter two, we follow the historical development of educational attainment. Chapter three describes the flow of individuals (born in 1975) through the educational system. Chapter four analyses the long-term consequences associated with track choices. Finally, in chapter five some basic decomposition analyses are presented that help us to explain to what extent the association between social origin and the attainment tertiary degrees or labor market outcomes is mediated by prior track choices.

Educational tracking and sorting in England. Education system, reforms, trends and empirical evidence for the 1970 Birth Cohort Study (BCS70)

Authors: Queralt Capsada-Munsech and Vikki Boliver

This report provides an overview and brief literature review of the English education system and the relevant educational reforms in relation toeducational tracking and sorting. We employ the term ‘tracking’ whenreferring to formal educational differentiation, while ‘sorting’ refers to informal educational differentiation. The main objective is to provide a descriptive empirical analysis that identifies the long-term consequences of educational tracking and sorting on educational and occupational attainment. We also explore to what extent educational tracking/sorting characteristics mediate the relationship between social class of origin and destination. We use the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) to provide empirical evidence for a mature cohort, mainly focusing on the role of school type and attaining a degree from a prestigious university as the main forms of educational tracking and sorting.

Tracking in the Italian Education System

Authors: Marta Facchini, Carlo Barone and Moris Triventi

In this report, we provide an overview of tracking, that is the choice of the type of secondary school, in Italy. First, we describe the structure of the Italian education system and its main reforms. We detail broad and curricular tracking both between and within schools. We focus on upper secondary school, since in Italy the school tracks branch at this node. Second, we use the Italian Household Longitudinal Study (IHLS) data to illustrate both the trends in educational attainment and the educational trajectories for four birth cohorts (1927-47, 1948-57, 1958-67 and 1968- 77). Third, we report the pattern of association between tracking and social inequality for the 1958-67 birth cohort. Specifically, we show that parental education and social class of origin are strongly correlated to track placement. Moreover, the choice of upper secondary school is associated to the final educational attainment and the position in the labor market at occupational maturity. Furthermore, tracking mediates almost half of the association between social background and educational and labor market outcomes.

Tracking and sorting in the Finnish educational system

Authors: Laura Heiskala and Jani Erola

This report gives a brief overview of educational tracking and sorting in the Finnish educational system. In Finland, students are divided into different tracks relatively late even though between and within-school tracking exists at all educational levels in some forms. In this report, we present descriptive empirical analyses of long-term consequences of educational tracking by social origin using full population Finnish register data. According to our analyses, parental education and parental social class are associated with track choice at upper secondary and tertiary education. Track choice at upper secondary education is also associated with several outcomes at occupational maturity, such as final educational attainment, social class, earnings and unemployment. Track choice at tertiary education partly explains these associations but the coefficients remain statistically significant in most of the cases. Furthermore, our decomposition analyses show a direct effect of social origin on outcomes at occupational maturity which is not explained by track choice at upper secondary and tertiary education.

Compensatory or multiplicative advantage? Parental Resources, School Achievement and Access to Higher Education in Finland

Authors: Laura Heiskala, Jani Erola and Elina Kilpi-Jakonen

The rules of intake, which determine how educational institutions are accessed, play a significant part in generating intergenerational educational inequalities. Different rules may allow parental resources to compensate for students’ lack of resources (such as academic ability) or to multiply and boost only those students who are in a position to use such additional resources. In this paper, we study compensation and multiplication of resources in the context of the Finnish higher education system. Entrance exams and a dual model (universities and polytechnics) make this system unique compared to many other Western countries and hence suitable for this study. Using high-quality register data, we studied the interaction between parental education and school achievement in the transition to higher education. We found that well-performing students are likely to access university if their parents have higher education, and to polytechnics, if their parents have basic or secondary education. Poorly performing students whose parents have higher education are likely to access polytechnics, but poorly performing students whose parents do not have a tertiary-level education are not likely to access higher education at all. Overall, our results suggest that compensatory advantage operates in accessing lower-threshold institutions and multiplicative advantage in accessing highly selective institutions.

Tracking and Sorting in the German Educational System. Literature review and analyses of the birth cohorts 1970-1980

Authors: Miriam Henninges, Claudia Traini and Corinna Kleinert

This report reviews the key modes of creating social dispersion in the German educational systemby sorting studentsinto distinct groups based on performance or choice. It describes the basic structure of the German educational system and the specific modes of sorting at the different stages of education from early childhood education and care until tertiary education, building on country-specific literature, administrative documents and official data. It places a specific focus on secondary schooling, where formal tracking is most prevalent. The report is complemented by descriptive analyses for the birth cohorts 1970-1980 in West Germany based on data from the National Educational Panel Study, Starting Cohort 6. It describes their educational pathways, the role of social origin in track placement, the long-term consequences of tracking, and its contribution to long-term social inequality. Findings based on new data covering detailed educational biographies show that the three different tracks lead to different educational and vocational trajectories; at the same time, there are manifold ways to reach similar attainment and to upgrade previous certificates. Parental resources (in terms of education or occupational class) are strongly associated with track placement. While students’ track location at different ages increases its importance in predicting educational outcomes, occupational measures are found to be less sensitive to respondents’ track location. This is especially true for unemployment and earnings. Finally, track placement at the beginning of lower secondary education accounts from on third to half of the difference in educational and labour market attainment due to social background and subsequent track mobility further mediates social background differences. A next step will be to investigate to which extent the effect of track placement is due to individuals’ self-selection into tracks.

Tracking and Sorting in the French Educational System

Authors: Estelle Herbaut, Carlo Barone, Mathieu Ichou and Louis-André Vallet

This paper provides an overview of tracking policies in secondary education in France. Drawing on two large datasets on educational trajectories and labour-market outcomes, it identifies patterns of social inequalities associated with track allocation in secondary education. It assesses the long-term consequences of track assignment and its mediating role in the association between social origin and occupational outcomes. Results confirm the large association between social origin and track allocation on the one hand, and between track attainment and higher education and labour-market outcomes at occupational maturity on the other hand. We also find that track attainment accounts for a large share of the association between social origin, measured either by parental education or by social class, and outcomes at occupational maturity. These results highlight the importance of tracking policies for social stratification in the French context.

Family Background, Educational Qualifications, and Meritocratic Labor Market Allocation: Evidence from Danish Siblings

Authors: Kristian Bernt Karlson and Jesper Fels Birkelund

A prominent strand of research in sociology analyzes how family background affects labor market outcomes among offspring with similar formal educational qualifications. Yet, previous studies are limited either by the way in which they measure family background or by the detail level by which they measure educational attainment. To address these two limitations, we develop a novel approach based on sibling similarities in labor market outcomes. Applying the approach to data on all Danes born 1965–1971, we examine the direct effect––other than through extremely granular education measures––of all combined effects of family background on occupational and income destinations. Our analyses show that the extremely fine-grained education measures can account for more than 90 percent of the total family background effect on occupational destinations, leaving little room for the processes associated with the direct effects of social origins to operate. For income destinations, however, the extremely fine-grained education measure accounts for merely three-quarters of the total family background effect. Roughly half of this direct effect on income destinations can be explained by sibling similarities in occupational choice, suggesting that family background affects income destinations through processes that operates equally within and between occupations. We discuss different mechanisms that may account for these results.

Educational Tracking and Long-Term Outcomes by Social Origin: Seven Countries in Comparison

Authors: Steffen Schindler, Eyal Bar-Haim, Carlo Barone, Jesper Fels Birkelund, Vikki Boliver, Queralt Capsada-Munsech, Jani Erola, Marta Facchini, Yariv Feniger, Laura Heiskala, Estelle Herbaut, Mathieu Ichou, Kristian Bernt Karlson, Corinna Kleinert, David Reimer, Claudia Traini, Moris Triventi, Louis-André Vallet

This paper assesses the extent to which the associations between social origins and long-term educational and labor market outcomes are mediated through educational differentiation in secondary education. We compare seven mostly European countries with different secondary education systems. We argue that a simple distinction between comprehensive systems and systems with formal between-school tracking might hide country-specific patterns of educational sorting. Instead, we suggest that even in educational systems that are usually classified as comprehensive, functional equivalents to tracking exist that also mediate the association between social origins and destinations. By drawing on national longitudinal data sets that span over individual life-courses from secondary education to occupational maturity, we provide analyses of each (partial) association in the O-E-D triangle (origins – education – destinations) of social mobility. Even though we find some between-country variation in the strength of the association between social origins and destinations, the relative role of differentiation in secondary education is remarkably similar when we take into account the country-specific approaches to educational sorting.

For more information visit LIFETRACK at DIAL.