LIFETRACK: Life Course Dynamics of Educational Tracking

About the project

This project aims to answer the following question: how and why do different educational systems, and in particular their various modes of educational tracking and sorting, influence the formation and reproduction of social inequalities over the life course? While previous comparative research has identified effects of tracking on educational inequality, this project goes beyond the state of the art by exploring the underlying mechanisms from a dynamic life-course perspective, and by considering long-term consequences of tracking for final educational attainment and labour market outcomes. The project will focus on both inequality formation in general and inequality dynamics with respect to socioeconomic origin, gender and ethnicity in particular.


During the first phase of the project, the LIFETRACK country teams have selected and prepared their country-level longitudinal datasets for the analyses. They have been involved with the identification of relevant forms of educational sorting in their countries. While some educational systems comprise obvious forms of educational sorting, such as formal between-school tracking with a differentiation into distinct school types, others pursue more subtle forms of differentiation, such as within-school differentiation of ability groups or the divide between public and private or elite and mass education.

In this first phase, the LIFETRACK project has made a systematic approach to a comprehensive description and identification of these various forms of sorting and their relevance with respect to the formation of social inequality in the participating countries. Each country team has followed a standardised sequence of analytical steps, comprising the identification of country-specific relevant forms of educational sorting, descriptive empirical analyses of the associations between each relevant mode of sorting and later-life educational and labour market outcomes, descriptive empirical analyses of the association between social origin and educational track placement, and first descriptive analyses on the relevance of educational sorting in secondary education for later-life social inequality.

First results
The results have been published in country reports that can be accessed through the LIFETRACK or DIAL websites (http://dynamicsofinequality.org/publication_type/country-study). The country-level results have also been compiled in a comparative paper that will be published as a journal article. Despite the institutional differences between the educational systems represented in the project, the findings of the first phase point towards substantial cross-country similarities in the role of secondary educational placement for later-life educational and occupational outcomes and the social inequalities therein.

During the second phase of the project, the country teams have been working on identifying the causal effects of educational differentiation in secondary education for labour market outcomes. Building on the insights from the first phase, each team prepared analyses of the effects of placement in secondary education by controlling for selection into educational streams. The findings of the second phase will be published in a joint special issue of a journal.

Research team

Prof. S. Schindler
University of Bamberg

Prof. J.P. Erola
University of Turku

Prof. C. Kleinert
Leibniz-Institut für Bildungsverläufe

Prof. K.B. Karlson
University of Copenhagen

Prof. C. Barone
Sciences Po

Dr V. Boliver
University of Durham

Prof. D. Reimer
Aarhus University