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EDULIFE Report Summary

Project ID: 269568
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Italy

Final Report Summary - EDULIFE (Education as a Lifelong Process – Comparing Educational Trajectories in Modern Societies)

Today, education is a lifelong process in which individuals acquire skills and competencies throughout the entire life-span. However, our empirical knowledge on the variation of inequality in education over the life course in modern societies is still based mostly on cross-sectional studies, providing only snapshots of students and employees at particular points in their educational careers. Therefore, by adopting an explicit life-course perspective and exploiting the best available datasets, the eduLIFE project has studied how the educational careers of individuals unfold over the entire life course in different societies, in relation to gender, family background, educational institutions, job careers and private life events. By comparing results from different modern societies, we aimed at establishing the generality of country-specific findings and we worked out important differences across countries in terms of their educational systems and overall institutional settings.

The project was structured around four phases, each focusing on a specific, very sensitive stage of the educational career:
Phase 1: Adult Learning
In this phase, we compared various models of lifelong learning and their consequences for the educational trajectories of adults together with other (economic and noneconomic) life-course outcomes. We distinguish non-formal adult learning (shorter training courses, often undertaken as part of employment) from formal adult learning (leading to recognized certificates and mirroring the normal educational career). Participation in non-formal adult learning, particularly with employer support, is much higher than participation in formal adult learning. Those who are advantaged in terms of education or occupational status are more likely to participate in non-formal learning, and this generally pays off in terms of advancement in the labor market. We also noted that family formation patterns drive female participation patterns in adult education in most countries.

Phase 2: School to Work Transition and Gender
In this phase, we studied educational trajectories and their consequences for gender differences at the school-to-work transition. Women are outcompeting men in educational attainment across all modern societies. But women still generally earn less and are less likely to start off in authoritative job positions; hence, they cannot fully translate their educational gains into better economic occupational outcomes. However, women tend to enter more prestigious and higher skill level jobs compared to men (mostly because of their better educational qualifications and different occupational choices). We concluded that even if women have gained from their risen educational attainment levels in terms of better job positions, they did not gain as much as they should have.

Phase 3: Secondary Education
In this phase, we examined educational differentiation in secondary education and short- and longer-term consequences with regard to social inequality in educational opportunities, achievement, and final educational attainment. We found that the allocation to different types of secondary education represents an important milestone for the reproduction of social inequalities in education even in recent cohorts. In all countries under study, social background is associated positively with enrolment in more prestigious types of secondary education. In contrast to previous studies, which distinguished secondary educational systems mainly in terms of formal tracking, we found less visible forms of informal differentiation such as subject choice and within-schools ability grouping to be crucial in the reproduction of educational inequalities as well.

Phase 4: Childcare and Early Education
In this phase, we studied access to early education and childcare, quality of preschool education, and its short- and long-term effects on individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. We found that good quality early education benefits all children: we found an overall positive link between pre-school attendance and reading competencies in primary and secondary school. Moreover, early education may be particularly beneficial for children of disadvantaged families; however, children from advantaged families are those who participate most and institutions with higher quality. We highlight the role of early parental choices in educational careers of individuals, which highly depend on families’ socioeconomic and cultural background. Parental decisions on childcare however are largely shaped by the country-specific characteristics of early education and care. We conclude that formal education and care can alleviate early inequalities in learning outcomes to some extent, while not fully closing the gap between children from different social backgrounds.

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