Education represents a central dimension of social inequality in contemporary societies. First, not all groups of the population achieve access to education to the same extent, which can be explained both by different endowments with resources and by different educational choices. Second, educational outcomes determine unemployment risks, positions and wages in the working life, but they are not equally rewarded among all social groups. Third, education is systematically linked to certain behaviors in adulthood, for example, in the areas of health, social participation, and deviant behavior, and also thereby reinforces inequalities. And fourth, social inequality is reproduced across generations, for example, when certain employment decisions of parents also affect educational decisions for their children.
The Department of Educational Decisions and Processes, Migration, Returns to Education brings together projects that systematically study educational decisions, their effects on educational processes, and the individual returns to education later in life. We are particularly interested in the role of the central lines along which social inequalities manifest themselves in access to, outcomes, and utilization of education: social origin, migration background, and gender. We also focus on structural and institutional settings that can channel, reinforce, or mitigate inequalities. Structural conditions such as regional infrastructure, demographics or the business cycle limit or open up opportunities, while institutions such as the school system, family policy or the welfare state set certain incentives for actors' decisions.
The projects in Department 2 develop instruments for the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) that can be used to analyze these issues; they collect additional data that take a closer look at certain aspects; and they conduct empirical research based on longitudinal data in order to carry out theory-driven investigations of the emergence and reproduction of social inequality in educational decisions, processes, and outcomes. These projects are assigned to four work areas and a staff unit: