Fields of Study, School-Work Linkages, and Inequality: A Comparative Approach


Thomas DiPrete
Giddings Professor of Sociology


The overall goal of this project is to develop a greater theoretical and empirical understanding of the pathways that lead from educational outcomes to occupational placement. The project pays attention both to the level of education and school-leaving credentials (i.e., diplomas, degrees, and certificates) and to fields of study within these levels. It then analyzes the strength of the link between specific educational outcomes and specific occupations. The research is novel in applying recent developments in multigroup segregation research to the measurement of the strength of linkage between school outcomes and occupations. It uses these techniques to study the pattern of linkage between school and work across a set of countries which differ both in the structure of their educational systems and in the ways that education and training are linked to occupational entry via licensing, apprenticeships, internships, and other formal or informal skill requirements or opportunities for skill acquisition while on the job. It then addresses the question of whether country differences in the structure of school-work linkage produce country differences in the relative pay of occupations and in the overall structure of wage and earnings inequality.

The intellectual merit of the research lies in its potential to significantly increase knowledge of how the structure of linkage between education and the labor market varies, both at different levels of the educational system and across different types of national educational systems. The project employs data from six important countries: the U.S., Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. To test hypotheses, the project utilizes segregation measures from the generalized entropy family of segregation meaures. This approach allows an assessment of the relative importance of educational levels and fields of study within levels to the total linkage strength of a country. It also allows a study of the extent of country differences that are structural and the extent of country differences that arise from (compositional) differences in the distribution of educational outcomes and occupational positions across these countries. The research will be novel in determining the extent to which fields of study provide clear pathways to jobs at different educational levels and how the pattern varies cross-nationally. It will highlight routes involving specific fields of study and tertiary credentials whose value in the labor market differs considerably across countries. Such information is of scientific importance for explaining differences in wage and earnings distributions, career mobility, and educational attainment across countries. It also points to potentially important social policies to better realize the potential of varying educational routes within the differing social and economic institutional structures under study in this project. This research product is of particular importance in the U.S., where completion rates in American higher education are relatively low. The research may also improve harmonized educational schemes now widely used in comparative research.