LMU: Social origin shapes how high potentials launch their career

Even after completing higher education, it is still difficult to go beyond the life opportunities ‘handed down’ by one’s parents. University graduates from families with low levels of education find it harder to launch a career than children from more privileged backgrounds.

“Performance is not yet so visible when someone begins their career. But stays abroad and internships – which are socially selective – do carry weight, as do parental networks. Young academics whose parents have few resources thus tend to have greater difficulties when starting a job,” says LMU sociologist Dr. Fabian Kratz. The latter only manage to overcome this competitive disadvantage as they gather professional experience. By contrast, children from highly educated families are given a “happy start” by their origins.

Fabian Kratz and Bettina Pettinger from the Chair of Quantitative Research on Inequality and Families at LMU’s Department of Sociology have collaborated with Professor Michael Grätz from the University of Lausanne to develop an innovative statistical approach that enables them to trace the influence of parental resources on career development as a function of the child’s level of education.

Parents’ educational background shapes careers
The study confirms that, in Germany, life opportunities are hereditary: Children’s educational opportunities depend heavily on their family background. The study outlines the impact of these two variables on differences in prestige regarding career choices. Even children with low levels of educational attainment benefit from extensive parental resources. And in the course of their career, their origins again pay dividends: “They are highly motivated to compensate for this handicap and, as their career unfolds, have good prospects of overcoming the loss of prestige due to their low educational level,” Kratz explains. The same development cannot be traced for children from homes with low educational attainments, however: If these children do not surpass the school-leaving qualifications of their parents, they will not be able to offset this advantage later on.

To support university graduates from families with low educational backgrounds, the LMU sociologist suggests organizing career launch information and networking events specially for this group. In addition, first-time employers are encouraged to attach less importance to socially selective attributes such as expensive stays abroad and/or internships, and instead to recognize the achievements of candidates who, contrary to the probability rooted in their origins, have succeeded in graduating from higher education.

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