Does International Student Mobility Increase Social Inequality?
Theoretically, two types of heterogeneous returns to ISM are plausible: Students from a high social origin could acquire more skills abroad, e.g. because they complete more valuable stays, or be able to better valorise the acquired cultural and symbolic capital in the labour market (cumulative advantage). Alternatively, their marginal utility of staying abroad could be lower because they already acquired solid transversal skills before their studies (compensatory levelling). While the first scenario should increase social inequality, the second one should actually reduce it.
We address the outlined research gap by examining graduates’ labour income. We analyse longitudinal data from 2005 DZHW Graduate Panel, which follows graduates from German higher education institutions up until ten years after graduation. We perform a propensity score matching to reduce observable selection bias and calculate latent growth curves of labour income to examine the role of ISM for the potential development of inequality between social origin groups.
Our results suggest that, in terms of income gains, students from a high social origin profit more from ISM than students from a low social origin. The latter only start to profit in their medium-term career. Considering that students from a high social origin are also more likely to study abroad (36% versus 25% in our sample), our results imply that ISM fosters the reproduction of social inequality.