Multidimensionality matters: the implications of educational hierarchy and differentiation for intergenerational mobility in Europe

Jane Gingrich, Anja Giudici, Daniel John McArthur*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects on social mobility of stratifying pupils into different educational pathways
have been debated for decades. We intervene in this debate by showing that
stratification in secondary schooling is multidimensional. The extent of differentiation
into separate tracks is distinct from hierarchy between tracks. To address data
limitations in existing research, we collect novel data on education policies from 1945
onwards for 16 European countries. Combined with mobility data from the European
Social Survey we use difference-in-differences regression models to test the effects of
hierarchy and differentiation on intergenerational mobility. Hierarchical stratification
shapes the inheritance of educational attainment while differentiation does not.
Differentiation only reduces mobility where educational pathways are hierarchically
structured. These findings imply that studies using measures of differentiation (e.g. the
tracking age), may instead be picking up aspects of hierarchy. They therefore highlight
the importance for future research to measure multiple dimensions of stratification and
assessing how combinations of policies can reinforce or undermine one another.
Original languageEnglish
JournalComparative Education Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Dec 2023

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