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


  • Fabrizio Bernardi

    () (Dept. of Social and Political Studies, European University Institute, Florence)

  • Gabriele Ballarino

    () (Dept. of Labour and Welfare Studies, University of Milan)


The aim of the paper is to investigate the consequences of higher educational expansion on two goals of the educational system, that of promoting equity of educational opportunities and that of providing credentials that facilitate the matching between labour supply and demand. The first goal is typically studied by research on inequality of educational opportunities, 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 possible opposite effects on the two goals. a. If with educational expansion equality of educational opportunities increases, while the occupational values of the titles decreases, one has a trade-off scenario, ie an increase in equality of educational opportunities is matched by a decline in the value of higher education in the labour market. b. If equality of opportunities does not increase, despite expansion of higher education, and the returns of higher education degrees decline, one has then a worst-off scenario. a. 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) for 23 countries. *

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  • Fabrizio Bernardi & Gabriele Ballarino, 2011. "Participation, equality of opportunity and returns to tertiary education in contemporary Europe," Working Papers 10, AlmaLaurea Inter-University Consortium.
  • Handle: RePEc:laa:wpaper:10

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Claudia Goldin, 1999. "Egalitarianism and the Returns to Education during the Great Transformation of American Education," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 65-94, December.
    2. Elena Meschi & Francesco Scervini, 2014. "A new dataset on educational inequality," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 47(2), pages 695-716, September.
    3. Muller, Walter & Gangl, Markus (ed.), 2003. "Transitions from Education to Work in Europe: The Integration of Youth into EU Labour Markets," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199252473, June.
    4. Brunello, Giorgio & Cappellari, Lorenzo, 2008. "The labour market effects of Alma Mater: Evidence from Italy," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 564-574, October.
    5. Michael Wickens, 2008. "The Centralized Economy, from Macroeconomic Theory: A Dynamic General Equilibrium Approach," Introductory Chapters,in: Macroeconomic Theory: A Dynamic General Equilibrium Approach Princeton University Press.
    6. Gabriele Ballarino & Massimiliano Bratti, 2009. "Field of Study and University Graduates' Early Employment Outcomes in Italy during 1995-2004," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 23(3), pages 421-457, September.
    7. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
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