Research

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 and diverse 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 Frankfurt)

Publications

Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Vocabulary and Inductive Reasoning Ability: A Dynamic Approach was published in Child Development. Nominated for the prestigious 2018 Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research. A blog post can be found here.

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). The paper is currently under review

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 organised a session on Social Stratification and Child Development for the Research Committee 28 (Social Stratification) at the ISA Forum of Sociology 2021, February 23-27 (virtual).

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 below). The project runs until March 2022.

In January 2021, we gained funding from STV Appeal to evaluate the East Lothian Tutoring Initiative (PI: Dr Edward Sosu; for more information see below).

A further project (2017-2019) with Strathclyde colleagues (PI: Dr  Claire Cassidy) 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

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.

Publications

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

Who benefits from attending prestigious universities? Family background and graduates’ career trajectories published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. 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 – 31/03/2022

    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.

     

    Part I: SES and school absenteeism

    Paper 1

    Klein, M., Sosu, E. M., & Dare, S. (2020). Mapping inequalities in school attendance: The relationship between dimensions of socioeconomic status and forms of school absence. Children and Youth Services Review118, 105432.

    Abstract

    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.

    A research brief based on this paper can be accessed here.

     

    Paper 2

    Socioeconomic Status and School Absenteeism: A Systematic Review  in press at Review of Education

    Abstract

    School absenteeism is detrimental to life course outcomes and is known to be socioeconomically stratified.  However, the link between socioeconomic status (SES) and school absence is complex given the multidimensional nature of both family SES (e.g., income, education, occupational status) and absenteeism (e.g., truancy, sickness, suspension).  Despite the vast literature on socioeconomic inequalities in school attendance, no systematic review on SES and school absenteeism exists.  This study systematically reviewed and provides a narrative synthesis of journal articles (n = 55) published between 1998 to 2019 on the association between SES dimensions and forms of absenteeism.  The majority of studies from high-income contexts found an association between SES and absenteeism in the expected direction, albeit on average with small effect sizes.  Studies largely confirmed these findings among populations at risk of school absence and those from low- and middle-income countries.  There was greater evidence for an association between absenteeism and SES measured at the family than the school level.  Studies using SES measures of financial resources (e.g., free or reduced-price lunch) provided more evidence for this association than studies measuring sociocultural resources (e.g., parental education).  There is limited evidence that socioeconomic achievement gaps in absenteeism vary by the reasons for absence. Research on the mediating pathways between SES and absenteeism is sparse.  A key implication is that attempts to address inequalities in educational outcomes must include tackling SES gaps in school attendance.

     

    Paper 3: Covid-19 and school absenteeism

    Socioeconomic disparities in school absenteeism after the first wave of COVID-19 school closures in Scotland. Research Report. University of Strathclyde.

    Key Points

    Student absences after the first wave of Covid-19 school closures were higher than in previous years

    Higher rates of absenteeism after school lockdown were due to COVID-19 related reasons

    Overall, non-Covid-19-related absence rates are similar to trends observed in earlier years

    Socioeconomic inequalities in school absenteeism were higher post-lockdown than in previous years

    This increase can be attributed to rising disparities in school absenteeism due to Covid-19-related and non-Covid-19 reasons

    The rise in socioeconomic inequality in non-Covid-19related absenteeism was not only due to higher absence rates among students from the most deprived areas but also due to lower absence rates among students from the least deprived areas

    Addressing the disproportionate short- and long-term  impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable children needs to be at the forefront of policy agenda

    We need greater monitoring and evaluation of inequalities in home learning during the second round of school closures; inequalities in academic achievement after school reopening; policy interventions designed to mitigate the consequences of Covid-19 on achievement gaps.

     

    Part II: School absenteeism and academic achievement

    Paper 1

    School absenteeism and academic achievement: Does the reason for absence matter? Under review

    Abstract

    Studies consistently show a detrimental impact of school absences on students’ academic achievement. However, questions remain about whether the consequences for student achievement vary with specific reasons for being absent from school. Considering different forms of absenteeism provides an opportunity for understanding possible mechanisms for their effects on academic achievement. Using a sample of the Scottish Longitudinal Study (n = 4,419), we investigated whether the impact of absenteeism on achievement in high-stakes exams at secondary school varies by reason for absence. We found that truancy, temporary exclusion, and sickness absence had significant adverse effects on academic achievement, while absences due to family holidays and exceptional domestic circumstances did not. These results suggest that, in addition to lost instruction, other mechanisms such as behavioral, health-related, and psychosocial pathways may explain the association between absenteeism and achievement. The findings have implications for designing tailored absenteeism interventions to improve achievement.

     

    Paper 2

    School absenteeism and academic achievement: is missing-out on school more detrimental to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds? In preparation for submission

    Paper was presented at the Society for Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies Annual Meeting in Potsdam (25-27 September 2019)

     

  • Process and Impact Evaluation of the East Lothian Tutoring Initiative (ELTI)

    Co-Investigator

    Sosu, Edward (PI),  Klein, Edward (Co-I), Cassidy, Claire (Co-I), Kennedy Aileen (Co-I)

    Period: 01/01/2021 – 30/09/2021

    Substantial gaps in learning outcomes exist between students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers both in Scotland and internationally (Sosu & Ellis, 2014; Chmielewski, 2019). Recent school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to further widen this gap (Education Endowment Foundation, 2020).

    To address the potential exacerbation of the attainment gap, the East Lothian Tutoring Initiative (ELTI) was developed to provide students from disadvantaged backgrounds with 1-1 tutoring opportunities to mitigate the educational disadvantage suffered during the pandemic. The proposed intervention is informed by evidence that tutoring substantially improves learning outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and helps close the attainment gap related to poverty (e.g., Dietrichson et al., 2017). The adopted ELTI is, however, a rapid response intervention aimed at addressing an immediate need very quickly. As a result, several elements are simultaneously evolving and provide an opportunity for learning about the process of establishing a quick response intervention to address an emerging crisis such as COVID-19.

    The project aims to undertake a process and impact evaluation of the ELTI on student learning outcomes. More specifically, the evaluation will: (1) document the developmental process of the ELTI, (2) measure the impact of the tutoring programme on students’ attainment and aspirations (3) examine the extent to which the intervention helps to reduce the attainment gap between students from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds.