Higher Education

, Volume 69, Issue 5, pp 779–807 | Cite as

The role of social origin and field of study on graduates’ overeducation: the case of Italy



This article explores the influence of social origin on overeducation across various fields of study. With the expansion of higher education most advantaged classes seek qualitative and quantitative advantages to differentiate themselves from other graduates. Although credentials are direct signals of productivity they can also be viewed by employers as indirect signals of non-cognitive skills, which can be acquired through family socialization. These credentials may explain differences in overeducation among graduates of different fields of study and social origin. Parental educational background and occupation are relevant characteristics from which individuals gain useful skills and information to avoid overeducation in the labour market. Using data from the Italian Graduates Employment Survey (ISTAT in Indagine Statistica sull’Inserimento Professionale dei Laureati. Istituto nazionale di statistica, Rome, 2007) this article provides evidence that graduates from fields of study that do not lead to a specific occupation (e.g. Humanities, Political and Social Sciences) decrease their risk of overeducation when their fathers belong to the professional class, but it has no influence on graduates from occupationally focused fields of study (e.g. Engineering and Medicine). These results are consistent even after controlling for the possible use of social networks when looking for a job.


Overeducation Fields of study Cultural capital Professional class Occupationally transversal Occupationally focused 



Previous versions of the paper have been presented at the ECSR/EQUALSOC Conference in Stockholm and in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. I thank the participants for their comments, and in particular Luis Ortiz, Ruud Luijkx and the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. The responsibility for any mistakes remains mine.


  1. Allen, J., & van der Velden, E. A. (2001). Educational mismatches versus skill mismatches: Effects on wages, job satisfaction, and on-the-job search. Oxford Economic Papers, 53(3), 434–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Argentin, G., & Triventi, M. (2011). Social inequality in higher education and labour market in a period of institutional reforms: Italy, 1992–2007. Higher Education, 61(3), 309–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ayalon, H., & Yogev, A. (2005). Field of study and students’ stratification in an expanded system of higher education: The case of Israel. European Sociological Review, 21(3), 227–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ballarino, G., & Barbieri, P. (2012). Disuguaglianze nelle carriere lavorative. In M. Checci (Ed.), Disuguaglianze diverse (pp. 79–97). Bologna.Google Scholar
  5. Ballarino, G., & Bratti, M. (2009). Field of study and university graduates’ early employment outcomes in Italy during 1995–2004. Labour, 23(3), 421–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barone, C., & Ortiz, L. (2010). Overeducation among European University Graduates: A comparative analysis of its incidence and the importance of higher education differentiation. Higher Education, 61(3), 325–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Becker, G. S. (1993). Human capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis, with special reference to education. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  8. Berggren, C. (2008). Horizontal and vertical differentiation within higher education—gender. Higher Education, 62(April), 20–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinctions Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Breen, R., & Goldthorpe, J. H. (2001). Class, mobility and merit. European Sociological Review, 17(2), 81–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Breen, R., & Jonsson, J. O. (2007). Explaining change in social fluidity: Educational equalization and educational expansion in twentieth-century Sweden. American Journal of Sociology, 112(6), 1775–1810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Breen, R., & Luijkx, R. (2004). Social mobility in Europe between 1970 and 2000. In Social Mobility in Europe (pp. 37–77).Google Scholar
  13. Clogg, C., & Shockey, J. W. (1984). Mismatch between occupation and schooling: A prevalence measure, recent trends and demographic analysis. Demography, 21(1), 235–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davies, S., & Gruppy, N. (1997). Fields of study, college selectivity, and student inequalities in higher education. Social Forces, 75(4), 1417–1438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Di Pietro, G., & Urwin, P. (2006). Education and skills mismatch in the Italian graduate labour market. Applied Economics, 38(1), 79–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dolton, P., & Vignoles, A. (2000). The incidence and effects of overeducation in the U.K. graduate labour market. Economics of Education Review, 19(2), 179–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. European Commission. (2007). Regions in the European Union. Luxemburg: Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics.Google Scholar
  18. Gasperoni, G. (2011). Reform of the Italian University educational system and evolution of selected characteristics of its graduates (2000–2009). AlmaLaurea Working Papers (3).Google Scholar
  19. Goyette, K. A., & Mullen, A. L. (2006). Who studies the arts and sciences? Social background and the choice and consequences of undergraduate field of study. Journal of Higher Education, 77(3), 497–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Sociological Theory, 1, 201–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Groot, W., & Maassen van den Brink, H. (2000). Overeducation in the labor market: A meta-analysis. Economics of Education Review, 19(2), 149–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Halaby, C. N. (1994). Overeducation and skill mismatch. Sociology of Education, 67(1), 47–59.Google Scholar
  23. Hansen, M. N. (1996). Earnings in elite groups: The impact of social class origin. Acta Sociologica, 39(4), 385–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hansen, M. N. (2006). Social origins and academic performance at university. European Sociological Review, 22(3), 277–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hartog, J. (2000). Over-education and earnings: Where are we, where should we go? Economics of Education Review, 19(2), 131–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hout, M. (1988). More universalism, less structural mobility: The American occupational structure in the 1980s’. American Journal of Sociology, 93(6), 1358–1400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Iannelli, C., & Soro-Bonmati, A. (2003). Transition pathways in Italy and Spain: Different patterns, similar vulnerability? In M. Müller & W. Gangl (Eds.), The transition from school to work: A European Perspective. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. ISTAT. (2007). Indagine Statistica sull’Inserimento Professionale dei Laureati. Rome: Istituto nazionale di statistica.Google Scholar
  29. ISTAT. (2010). I laureati e il mercato del lavoro. Rome: Istituto nazionale di statistica.Google Scholar
  30. Jonsson, J. O., Di Carlo, M., Brinton, M. C., Grusky, D. B., & Pollak, R. (2009). Microclass mobility: Social reproduction in four countries. American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 977–1036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kucel, A. (2011). Literature survey of the incidence of over-education: A sociological approach. Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 134(1), 125–142.Google Scholar
  32. Lucas, S. R. (2001). Effectively maintained inequality: Education transitions, track mobility, and social background effects’. The American Journal of Sociology, 106(6), 1642–1690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mastekaasa, A. (2009). Social origins and labour market success--stability and change over Norwegian birth cohorts 1950–1969. European Sociological Review, 27(1), 1–15.Google Scholar
  34. McGuinness, S., & Wooden, M. (2007). Overskilling, job insecurity and career mobility. IZA Disussion Papers (2938:1).Google Scholar
  35. OECD. (2011). OECD employment outlook 2011. OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  36. OECD. (2012). Better skills, better jobs, better lives: A strategic approach to skills policies. OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  37. OECD. (2013). Education at a Glance 2013. OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  38. Ortiz, L., & Kucel, A. (2008). Do fields of study matter for over-education? The cases of Spain and Germany. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49(4–5), 305–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Quintini, G. (2011a). Over-qualified or under- skilled: A review of existing literature, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers (No. 121). OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  40. Quintini, G. (2011b). Right for the job: Over-qualified or under-skilled? OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers (No. 120). OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  41. Recchi, E. (2007). Italy: Expansion, reform, and social inequality in higher education. In Stratification in Higher education: A comparative study (pp. 400–420).Google Scholar
  42. Reimer, D., Noelke, C., & Kucel, A. (2008). Labor market effects of field of study in comparative perspective: An analysis of 22 European countries. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49(4–5), 233–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Scherer, S., Pollak, R., Otte, G., & Gangl, M. (2007). From origin to destination. Campus Verlag.Google Scholar
  44. Schizzerotto, A. & Cobalti, A. (1998). Occupational returns to education in contemporary Italy. In W. Shavit, & Y. Müller (Eds.), From school to work: A comparative study of educational qualifications and occupational destinations (pp. 253–286). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Schofer, E., & Meyer, J. W. (2005). The worldwide expansion of higher education in the twentieth century. American Sociological Review, 70(6), 898–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shavit, Y., Arum, R., Gamoran, A., & Menachem, G. (2007). Stratification in higher education: A comparative study. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Torche, F. (2013). Is a College degree still the great equalizer? Intergenerational mobility across levels of schooling in the United States 1, 117(3), 763–807.Google Scholar
  48. Triventi, M. (2011). Stratification in higher education and its relationship with social inequality: A comparative study of 11 European Countries. European Sociological Review, 29(3), 489–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Weeden, K., & Grusky, D. B. (2005). The case for a new class map. American Journal of Sociology, 111(1), 141–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF)BarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations