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Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development

Research project

Understanding social gradients in education: A psycho-social-ecological framework

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Kaspar Burger

Governments across the world recognize the right of the child to education and strive to achieve this right on the basis of equal opportunity. Education shall allow children to develop their talents, abilities and personality, whereas equal opportunity shall guarantee the eradication of any kind of discrimination. Accordingly, disparities in educational attainments should be a result of differences in individual merit. However, research shows that non-merit characteristics such as social origin also influence educational attainments. For instance, across OECD countries, no more than one out of five students from families with a low educational background attains a degree in tertiary education, as opposed to two thirds of students from families with at least one parent with tertiary education. Such disparities are often considered as a consequence of unequal opportunities and therefore deserve attention from both scientists and policymakers. This research project aims to analyze determinants of social gradients in education from a cross-national and a longitudinal perspective. It seeks to determine how micro-level psychological characteristics, meso-level family and school characteristics, and macro-level factors such as educational policies and wider societal contexts affect social gradients in educational outcomes, and whether they interact in shaping these gradients. Furthermore, the project aims to advance methodological techniques to better account for the multidimensional nature and origins of social gradients in education.

The project receives funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation under the Grant Agreement PCEFP1_181098.