Richard Breen, Ruud Luijkx, Walter Müller, Reinhard Pollak
Long term-trends in educational inequality in Europe: class inequalities and gender differences

European Sociological Review, 2010: 26, issue 1, pp. 31-48
ISSN: 0266-7215

Using data for seven European countries we analyse trends among women in class differences in educational attainment over the first two-thirds of the 20th century. We also compare educational attainment between men and women; we ask whether class differences among the two sexes are similar or not; and whether trends in class differences over birth cohorts have differed between men and women. We find that, as expected, over the 20th century, inequalities between men and women in their educational attainment declined markedly. More importantly, changes in class inequalities in educational attainment have been similar for both men and women, although, in some countries, women displayed greater inequality at the start of the 20th century and have shown a somewhat greater rate of increase in equality. Patterns of class inequality were also largely similar for both sexes, though in some countries daughters of farmers and the petty-bourgeoisie did relatively better than their brothers. While some of these results reinforce what has long been believed, our central finding of a decline in class inequality in educational attainment for both men and women contradicts the ‘persistent inequality’ in education that earlier scholars claimed existed.