My research interests are concerned with the formation of social inequalities across the life course. Current research focuses on three themes: 1) child development in dynamic and diverse family contexts, 2) social inequality in educational attainment, and 3) the interplay of inter- and intragenerational mobility among graduates. To address these research themes, I commonly apply quantitative methods to large-scale longitudinal data.

Child development in dynamic family contexts

Early childhood conditions are crucial for life course outcomes and play a significant role in the intergenerational social reproduction. These conditions change over the child’s early life course and may thus be of variable consequence for children’s development depending on the timing and duration of exposure. This research investigates the association between dynamic childhood circumstances (e.g. mothers’ employment, TV consumption, housing and residential area) and children’s developmental outcomes. We use recently developed methods from biostatistics and epidemiology to account for complex temporal and causal interdependencies between different contextual factors. This project is a long-term collaboration with Michael Kühhirt (University of Cologne)

Our first paper Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Vocabulary and Inductive Reasoning Ability: A Dynamic Approach was published in the Journal Child Development. It was nominated for the prestigious Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research (see here).

Our second paper Parental education, Television Exposure, and Children’s Early Cognitive, Language and Behavioral Development was published in Social Science Research (see Working Paper here).

Work in progress:

  • Gender Differences in Academic Achievement and Behavior Problems across family contexts
    We presented earlier versions of this paper at the ISA Joint Conference for RC06 (Family) and RC41 (Population) in Singapore, 17-19 May 2018 and at the SLLS (Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies) Annual Conference in Potsdam, 25-27 September 2019. The paper is currently under review.
  • Direct and indirect effects of grandparents’ education on grandchildren’s cognitive development: The role of parental cognitive ability. This paper was presented in the RC28 session Multigenerational Perspectives on Stratification at the ISA World Congress in Toronto (July 15-21, 2018).
  • Decomposing family background differences on early cognitive and language development. The role of parental class, status, education, and occupational skills (with Katherin Barg)

At the ISA World Congress in 2018, Michael Kühhirt and I organised and chaired an RC28 session on the Social stratification of Child Development. The session aimed to integrate social stratification research with current theoretical models and concepts of human development.

Together with Jianghong Li (WZB Berlin), we are organising another session on Social Stratification and Child Development for Research Committee 28 (Social Stratification) at the ISA Forum of Sociology 2021, February 23-27 in Brazil.

Social inequality in educational attainment

This research is concerned with changes in social inequalities in educational attainment over time, the relationship between macro-level education policy and social inequality, and the micro-level mechanisms for educational inequality.

My first empirical work on this topic investigated how social disparities in attending Gymnasium and qualifying for higher education in Germany have developed since the 1930s until very recently (together with Steffen Schindler, Reinhard Pollak, and Walter Müller).

Within AQMeN, we analysed the association between school curricula, examination results, and university entrance requirements and social inequalities in access to higher education comparing the Scottish and Irish education system (together with Cristina Iannelli and Emer Smyth). This paper was published in the British Educational Research Journal and has been shortlisted for the 2017 BERJ Editor’s Choice Award.

My  paper (together with Katherin Barg and Michael Kühhirt) investigated whether social inequalities in attaining the Abitur (equivalent to A-levels) were smaller in East Germany than West Germany before reunification. In addition, we analysed whether Eastern social inequalities converged to the Western level after reunification. This paper was published in Sociological Science.

In September 2018, I gained funding from the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative for a project investigating the mediating role of school absenteeism for social inequalities in educational attainment and post-school destinations (for more information see Current Research Funding). The project runs until December 2020 but will likely be extended due to COVID-19.

A further project with Strathclyde colleagues was concerned with nurturing school ethos to improve educational attainment and to help to decrease the poverty-related attainment gap in a secondary school in Glasgow. This project was funded by Glasgow City Council.

Interplay of inter- and intragenerational mobility among graduates

Whereas the literature on intergenerational mobility found that the influence of the class of origin on class destinations is weaker among the highly educated than among individuals with lower educational attainment, several studies (including my work with Marita Jacob and Cristina Iannelli) showed that social origin still matters for labour market outcomes even for graduates. However, these studies commonly restrict their analyses to labour market entry or two snapshot measures in the life course (e.g. entry and occupational maturity).

In this project, we use a holistic approach and model social inequalities in long-term career trajectories among graduates across the life course. Using birth cohort studies (e.g. BCS70) and growth curve modelling, we assess whether initial disparities at labour market entry perpetuate over the life course, increase or whether career developments offer the potential to compensate for initial differences. Furthermore, we will look at within-graduate heterogeneity of social inequalities in career progression.

The paper Family of Origin, Field of Study and Graduates’ Career Progression. Does Social Inequality Vary Across Fields? (with Marita Jacob) has been published in the British Journal of Sociology as open access.

Work in Progress

Do Selective Institutions Pay Off Equally for Graduates from Diverse Backgrounds? Social Origin, HE Institutions and Long-term Career Trajectories.  The paper is currently under review. A working paper can be accessed here.

Current Research Funding

  • Social Inequalities in Educational Attainment: An Investigation into the Mediating Role of School Absenteeism

    Principal Investigator

    Klein, Markus (Principal Investigator), & Sosu, Edward (Co-investigator)

    Period: 01/09/2018 – 31/12/2020

    Significant social inequalities in educational attainment are well-established in Scotland and elsewhere. Closing the poverty-related attainment gap has therefore been identified as the key priority in Scottish education policy. The literature on the mechanisms underpinning socio-economic differences in educational attainment has not yet seriously considered school absenteeism. Yet missing out frequently from school may hinder children’s ability to develop to their full academic potential and may, therefore, be detrimental not only for individuals’ life courses but also for Scotland’s economy and society. Investigating the prevalence, determinants and consequences of school absenteeism in Scottish schools is, therefore, an essential requirement for evidence-based changes in policy and practice.

    This project aims to investigate whether differences in school attendance account for social inequalities in educational attainment and post-school destinations among pupils in Scotland. Due to differences in health-related behaviour, residential and school mobility, family structure and environment, and parental employment characteristics, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds may be more frequently absent from school than children from higher socio-economic backgrounds. In turn, missing out on important parts of the curriculum due to lower attendance, truancy, or exclusion may result in lower performance in school exams, decreased likelihood of continuing school after the compulsory schooling age, and lowering the likelihood of progressing to higher education. In addition, we will investigate whether school absenteeism is more detrimental to pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds than to pupils from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Our results will have important implications for policy and practice.

    The secondary data analysis will make use of the unique Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) which links Census data in 2001 and 2011 with administrative School Census and Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) data. The SLS is a large-scale, anonymised linkage study designed to capture 5.5% of the Scottish population based on 20 semi-random birthdates. These large-scale administrative data are unique in providing detailed and accurate information on family background, school attendance and school attainment among secondary pupils in Scotland. The use of administrative data on school attendance is advantageous as it provides more reliable data than survey information.

    Our study explores whether, and to what extent, school absenteeism explains socio-economic differences in school performance and post-school destinations among secondary school students. It will provide a novel and comprehensive understanding of whether the type of school absenteeism, such as truancy, exclusion or legitimate absence matters. Finally, it will shed light on whether absenteeism is particularly detrimental for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

    Paper 1

    Mapping Inequalities in School Attendance: The relationship between different socioeconomic dimensions and forms of school absenteeism was presented at the European Conference on Educational Research in Hamburg (03-06 September 2019). The paper is currently under review. A preprint can be accessed here.


    In this paper, we investigated whether and to what extent dimensions of socioeconomic background (parental education, parental class, free school meal registration, housing status, and neighborhood deprivation) predict overall school absences and different reasons for missing school (truancy, sickness, family holidays and temporary exclusion) among 4,620 secondary pupils in Scotland. Participants were drawn from a sample of the Scottish Longitudinal Study comprising linked Census data and administrative school records. Using fractional logit models and logistic regressions, we found that all dimensions of socioeconomic background were uniquely linked to overall absences. Multiple measures of socioeconomic background were also associated with truancy, sickness-related absence and temporary exclusion. Social housing and parental education had the most pervasive effect across these forms of absenteeism.

    Paper 2

    Family Socioeconomic Status and School Absenteeism: A Systematic Review is currently under review

    Despite the vast literature on socioeconomic inequalities in school attendance, no systematic review on family socioeconomic status (SES) and school absenteeism exists. This study systematically reviewed the literature (1998-2019) on the association between dimensions of SES and forms of absenteeism (n=55). The majority of studies (from high-income contexts, n=37) found that students from lower SES backgrounds had a significantly higher risk of missing out on school than their higher-SES peers. This result was largely confirmed by studies among at-risk populations and those from low- and middle-income countries. The moderating role of race and gender was inconclusive. There was greater evidence for an association between absenteeism and SES at the individual than at the school level. Studies using SES measures of financial resources (e.g., family income) provide more evidence for this association than studies analyzing socio-cultural resources (e.g., parental education). Research on the mediating pathways between SES and absenteeism are sparse.

    Paper 3

    School absenteeism and academic achievement: is missing-out on school more detrimental to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds? was presented at the Society for Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies Annual Meeting in Potsdam (25-27 September 2019)