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Path Dependencies between Occupational Choices, Educational Decicions and Educational Transitions


The project investigates the process of occupational choice in the transition from school and its consequences for take-up and progress of post-school education.

So far, there are many studies on single aspects of school-to-work transitions, such as occupational choices, educational decisions, entries into post-school education, and training dropouts, but they are widely isolated in terms of their conceptual, theoretical, and empirical approaches. What has hardly been applied – also due to a lack of appropriate longitudinal data – is a dynamic perspective, which takes into account the fact that occupational choices, decisions taken during transitions, and their revision are consecutive steps in the transition process.

The project aims at closing these research gaps by generating basic knowledge from a longitudinal perspective about supply-side mechanisms.



Processes of occupational choice and connected educational decisions are important steps in adolescents' development; at the same time, training occupations set the course for their further careers. In Germany, occupations play a key role in shaping the transition to employment and in (re-)producing social inequality. However, educational pathways in Germany have profoundly changed in the course of educational expansion and structural labour market change. Alongside these trends an increase of qualitative mismatch on the training market has been observed.

Against this background it is a crucial question how such imbalances may develop. Previous research provides only limited information on this issue.



Our main questions are: How do adolescents adapt their occupational and educational aspirations to the expectations of their surroundings and to the realities of the training market before finishing school? Which consequences do these compromises have for their further education and training careers? How does social stratification, in particular with regard to social background, affect this process and how does this influence develop over the transition process?

To answer these questions, we use longitudinal data of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), Starting Cohort 4, to investigate the careers of ninth-grade students. We enrich these data with structural information on training occupations taken from official statistics. This enables us to examine adolescents' preferences for occupational fields, their willingness to make compromises in certain dimensions, such as income prospects or job security, the quality of the match between occupational aspiration and training occupation, and the consequences of these parameters for further educational careers.



Overall, the studies conducted within the project provided four important findings:

First, we were able to show that there are adaptation processes between occupational aspirations (i.e., career aspirations), application behavior, and actually chosen training occupation. This can be seen in the fact that young people not only express gender-typical aspirations with regard to the training occupation, but that aspirations that were originally gender-untypical also frequently lead to gender-conforming applications and first training places in the course of the application process. This is especially the case for young women. According to the project findings, young women are also more influenced than men by their parents' occupational aspirations, which is also reflected in the trade-offs between original aspirations and the actual training occupation.

Second, the results show that a large proportion of young people make compromises in their choice of training place, i.e., their training occupation does not correspond to their occupational aspirations in the 9th grade. By enriching the data with structural information on the training occupations, we were now able to depict the compromises made in a differentiated manner. This showed that many young people start a training occupation that is very similar to their occupational aspirations. Compromises do not always mean sacrifices, but can also be accompanied by gains in terms of wage levels, prestige or career prospects of occupations. 

Third, we find that social origin plays a smaller role than assumed. In our studies, we found no evidence that the nature of trade-offs depends on social origin. This suggests that social origin probably plays more of a role in shaping career aspirations than in the subsequent adjustment of these aspirations to the realities of the training market. School-leaving qualifications and school grades, on the other hand, clearly influence compromise behavior.

Fourthly, compromises between the career aspirations and the training occupation have consequences for the further course of training for young people, particularly with regard to successful completion. For example, the risk of dropping out of training increases if the training occupation is more gender-atypical than the desired occupation and, above all, if the training occupation does not match the interest structure of the training occupation. On the other hand, it does not matter whether the occupation fulfills the prestige expectations associated with the desired occupation.


Project profile

Project partners
Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen