From higher education to work patterns of labor market entry in Germany and the US

Abstract

Comparative studies describing the transition from higher education to work have often simplified the complex transition processes involved. In this paper we extend previous research by taking into account several steps that comprise labor market entry, e.g., recurrent education leading to more than one instance of labor market entry. By comparing Germany and the United States we also examine how the tertiary education systems influence these transitions via the mode of stratification (parallel tracks in Germany vs. consecutive tracks in the US), the coordination mechanism (state-controlled vs. market-based) and the degree of standardization in educational programs. In our empirical analyses using large-scale longitudinal survey data we find that transitions in the US are less standardized and regulated than in Germany. Furthermore, differences between students from lower- and higher-tier institutions are less marked than expected, both within and between the two countries.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Whereas the Abitur provides eligibility for all university courses, the Fach-Abitur or Fachhochschulreife provides only access to Fachhochschulen.

  2. 2.

    Admission to several fields of study (e.g., medicine, law, psychology) is regulated by a central selection process (ZVS Zentralstelle für die Vergabe von Studienpätzen “University central office of admission”) to coordinate admission restrictions (Numerus Clausus) into universities.

  3. 3.

    The introduction of the BA/MA-structure, tuition fees and elite universities during the last decade had not affected educational decisions of the birth cohorts we are analyzing in this paper.

  4. 4.

    Using panel data and retrospective data for comparison may lead to some problems. However, as panel mortality in the NLSY79 is rather low, systematic sample differences caused by the design may also be low. Concerning problems of selective memory in retrospective data, we assume that education is remembered accurately. It turned out that even brief employment episodes are in fact reported by German respondents (cf. Fig. 3).

  5. 5.

    The birth cohorts of the two data sets differ. Therefore, we have to be aware that the variance we observe in each country could partly be due to differences between the cohorts. The difference between the German cohorts is larger. Our hypothesis is that there is more variance in the US than in the German patterns, so our results can only be biased towards rejection of the hypothesis.

  6. 6.

    Looking at those students who only attended university in the US, we find that there are fewer final entries into the labor market above 25 compared to students who have been enrolled in community colleges at least once (results not shown here). Comparing ‘straight’ university careers with those that attended at least once a community college, it turns out that community colleges actually partly account for de-standardized careers, sometimes by providing a bridge into higher tertiary education and sometimes by offering attractive prospects of re-entry for older students.

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Correspondence to Marita Jacob.

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Jacob, M., Weiss, F. From higher education to work patterns of labor market entry in Germany and the US. High Educ 60, 529–542 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-010-9313-y

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Keywords

  • Educational system
  • Transition patterns
  • Labor market entry
  • Re-entry into education