Educational Inequality after State Socialism: The Effect of German Unification Revisited

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:50
Oral Presentation
Bastian BETTHAEUSER, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
In 1990, German unification led to an abrupt and extensive restructuring of the educational system of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as the latter was reintegrated into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). However, the consequences of the large-scale institutional change in East Germany for the educational inequality between children from different social class backgrounds continue to be poorly understood. This paper exploits the quasi-experimental nature of German unification to examine, first, whether state socialism in the GDR succeeded in realising its ideological commitment to increasing the educational attainment of children from working-class backgrounds, relative to children from more advantaged backgrounds. Second, it assesses whether the restructuring of the East-German educational system and economy in the wake of German unification led to a convergence in the level of educational inequality in East Germany towards that of West Germany. To address these two research aims, we compare changes in the class gradient in educational attainment in East and West Germany across six birth cohorts, including three cohorts of individuals who completed their schooling after unification. We use the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) as the primary data set for our analyses and we verify the robustness of our results by replicating all our analyses using the German General Social Survey (ALLBUS/GGSS). Contrasting with past research, our findings show that before unification, educational inequality at the mid-secondary, upper-secondary and tertiary level was substantially lower in East Germany than in West Germany. German unification then led to a sustained increase and convergence of the level of educational inequality in East Germany towards that of West Germany. Our findings suggest that large-scale institutional reforms can have a profound and lasting effect on the level of educational inequality in society.