Italian Centre for Research on Universities & HE Systems

Participation, equality of opportunity and returns to tertiary education in contemporary Europe

Gabriele Ballarino, Fabrizio Bernardi

Type: Journal Article
Year: 2014

The aim of the paper is to investigate the consequences of the expansion of higher education on two goals of the education system: promoting equity of educational opportunities and providing credentials that facilitate the matching of labour supply and demand. The first goal is typically studied by research on inequality of educational opportunity; the second by research on returns to education and credential inflation. The key idea of the paper is that educational expansion can have different and possibly opposite effects on the two goals.

  1. If, with educational expansion, equality of educational opportunities increases, while the occupational value of the titles decreases, one has a trade-off scenario. I.e., an increase in equality of educational opportunities is matched by a decline in the value of higher education in the labour market.
  2.  If equality of opportunities does not increase, despite the expansion of higher education, and the returns of higher education degrees decline, one has then a worst-off scenario.

c     Finally, if with educational expansion equality of opportunities increases and there is no credential inflation, one has a best-off scenario.

In this paper, we systematically investigate these alternative scenarios. We perform the same empirical analysis on two distinct data sets in order to test the robustness of our findings. We use micro data from EU-SILC 2005 and from the four merged waves of the European Social Survey (2002- 2008), covering 23 countries.


European Societies 16, 3, 2014, pp. 422-442




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