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Education, Occupation and Social Origin

Education, Occupation and Social Origin

A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities

Edited by Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabrielle Ballarino

This innovative book takes a comparative approach to the social origin–education–destination triangle (OED), looking at the intergenerational transmission of advantage in 14 countries. The intention is to debate the claim that education is the ‘great social equalizer’. The contributors examine the relation between family background, education and occupational achievement over time and across educational levels, focusing on the relationship between individuals’ social origins and their income and occupational outcomes. It will be of interest to academics and students of social policy and those interested in social inequalities and their reproduction over time.

Chapter 8: Social origin and inequality in educational returns in the Dutch labour market

Jochem Tolsma and Maarten H.J. Wolbers

Subjects: education, education policy, social policy and sociology, education policy, sociology and sociological theory


Modernization theory is commonly used by social stratification sociologists to state that modern societies are characterized by efficient allocation and selection processes in the labour market. Compared to pre-industrial societies, selection less often takes place on the basis of ascribed characteristics, such as social origin. Instead, occupational attainment is increasingly based on merit or achieved properties, in particular occupation-specific knowledge and skills. Education is therefore considered to be the single most important determinant of an individual’s occupational status in modern labour markets (Blau and Duncan 1967; Treiman 1970). It is claimed that this trend from ascription to achievement is caused by technological developments in the labour market which have led to a shift in demand from a low-skilled to a high-skilled labour force (Kerr et al. 1960; Bell 1974). This process of skills upgrading is referred to as ‘skill-biased technological change’ (Levy and Murnane 1992; Krueger 1993). When technological developments lead to a growing demand for high-skilled labour, employers increasingly select on, and individuals increasingly invest in, educational credentials. As a consequence, economic modernization has resulted in a rapid increase in educational attainment in advanced societies.

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