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 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)

We published the first paper in this framework in Child Development:

Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Vocabulary and Inductive Reasoning Ability: A Dynamic Approach

Work in progress:

  • The Social Stratification of Early TV Consumption and Children’s Cognitive, Language and Behavioral Development
  • The Social Stratification of Sex Differences in Academic Achievement and Behavior Problems. We presented this paper at the ISA Joint Conference for RC06 (Family) and RC41 (Population) in Singapore, 17-19 May 2018.
  • Direct and Indirect Effects of Grandparent SES on Grandchildren’s Cognitive Development: A Prospective Mediation Analysis. We presented this paper in the RC28 session Multigenerational Perspectives on Stratification at the ISA World Congress in Toronto (July 15-21, 2018).

At the ISA World Congress, 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.

Another paper with Katherin Barg decomposes family background differences in early cognitive and language development into effects of parental class, status, education and occupational skills (work in progress).

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 British Educational Research Journal and has been shortlisted for the 2017 BERJ Editor’s Choice Award.

My newest paper (together with Katherin Barg and Michael Kühhirt) investigates whether social inequalities in eligibility for higher education were smaller in East Germany than West Germany before reunification and how that changed after reunification. This paper was published in Sociological Science.

Recently, 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, please see below.

A further project with Strathclyde colleagues is 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. Glasgow City Council funds this research. For more information, please see below.

Interplay of inter- and intragenerational mobility among graduates

While the literature on intergenerational mobility found that the influence of class of origin on the class of destination is weaker among the highly educated than among individuals with limited education, several studies (including my work with Marita Jacob and Cristina Iannelli) showed that social origin 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.

Two papers are currently in development:

Family of Origin, Field of Study and Career Development. Inequality in Graduates’ Occupational Mobility (with Marita Jacob)

Do Selective Institutions Pay Off Equally for Graduates from Diverse Backgrounds? Social Origin, HE Institutions and Long-term Career Trajectories

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 – 28/02/2020

    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 is the first of its kind to explore 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.

  • Nurturing School Ethos to Improve Educational Attainment


    Cassidy, Claire (Principal Investigator) Holmes, Joanna (Co-investigator) Klein, Markus (Co-investigator) Sosu, Edward (Co-investigator)

    Period: 01-Aug-2017 – 31-Mar-2019

    This research and development project is designed to be sustainable, innovative and inclusive while focusing on three particular areas in addressing the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge. The over-arching goal of the project is to improve educational attainment by nurturing and building on the school ethos and environment. A whole school approach to meeting the demands of raising attainment is built around:

    1. Developing a data literate school community;
    2. Developing middle managers in leading and managing change;
    3. Developing teacher’s pedagogy and children’s metacognitive skills through philosophy with children

    Together with Edward Sosu, I am responsible for the first part of the project.