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Productive Skills, Positional Good, or Social Closure? Three Mechanisms for the Education Effect across Structural Institutional Settings

Programme group Institutions, Inequalities, and Life courses (IIL)

This NWO funded project formulates a theoretical approach which connects various theories of why education has an effect on labour market outcomes (e.g. employment, wages, and flexible contracts) with structural-institutional settings in which such theories would form the most likely mechanism.

Funded by NWO

Period: 01/2008 - 03/2013 

Three broad mechanisms 

Three broad mechanisms are distinguished:

  1. productive skills
  2. positional goods
  3. social closure. 

Conditions are formulated under which employers behave corresponding to the three mechanisms, leading to variations across industries and across countries in the extent to which mechanisms adequately explain the education effect.

Importantly, rather than specifying between-setting variation in the strength of the effect of education, which has unfortunately been the dominant way of analyzing between-setting variation, we will focus on the variations in the mechanisms why education pays off on the labour market.

Furthermore, we will bridge cross-national and between-industry perspectives on institutions governing labour market behaviour.

This will develop into a project that is not only concerned with the role of educational qualifications, but also with institutions relevant for actors in the labour market.

Hypotheses will be developed and tested using various data sources: aggregate data at industry and country levels, existing employee surveys, and a new vignette study among HRM managers.

A relevant aspect of this project is, lastly, to link mechanisms to legitimations of social inequalities. This political philosophical element of the project pays attention to a highly relevant, yet largely vanished aspect of empirical-theoretical inequality studies.

prof. dr. H.G. (Herman) van de Werfhorst

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Institutions, Inequalities and Life courses

dr. T. (Thijs) Bol

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Institutions, Inequalities and Life courses