Higher Education

, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 277–291 | Cite as

Do brothers affect their sisters’ chances to graduate? An analysis of sibling sex composition effects on graduation from a university or a Fachhochschule in Germany

  • Marita Jacob


In a recent paper on gender inequality in higher education Buchman and DiPrete (2006) assume that the decrease in the gender gap in college completion in the US can partly be explained by changes in the allocation of familial resources in favour of women. However, they do not test this hypothesis empirically. In this paper I examine the effects of sibling sex composition on the graduation of women in more detail by analysing data from the German Life History Study. I assume that resources are the key issue to explaining the effects of sibling configuration on educational attainment. Tertiary education is a good case for testing sex composition effects due to the unequal distribution of resources between and within families, because the direct costs and opportunity costs of higher education are relatively high compared to those of earlier educational decisions. Accordingly, I expect that working class daughters are most likely to be disadvantaged if they are raised with brothers. The empirical results show that in fact, not the presence of a brother as such hinders educational attainment of sisters, but older brothers have a negative influence on their sisters chances of graduation. In accordance to the hypothesis, this effect is stronger for university graduation than for graduation at Fachhochschule. For social class differences in sibling effects it turns out that working class daughters are particularly less likely to graduate compared to service class daughters if there are older brothers in the family.


Gender Higher education Family background Social class Brother 


  1. Ai, C. R., & Norton, E. C. (2003). Interaction terms in logit and probit models. Economics Letters, 80(1), 123–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amin, V. (2009). Sibling sex composition and educational outcomes: A review of theory and evidence for the UK. Labour, 23(1), 67–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bauer, T., & Gang, I. N. (2001). Sibling rivalry in educational attainment: The German case. Labour, 15(2), 237–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker, G. S., & Tomes, N. (1979). An equilibrium theory of the distribution of income and intergenerational mobility. Journal of Political Economy, 87, 1153–1189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, G. S., & Tomes, N. (1986). Human capital and the rise and fall of families. Journal of Labor Economics, 4, 1–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Behrman, J. R., Pollak, R. A., & Taubmann, P. (1982). Parental preferences and provision for progeny. Journal of Political Economy, 90(1), 52–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Breen, R., & Goldthorpe, J. H. (1997). Explaining educational differentials. Towards a formal rational action theory. Rationality and Society, 9(3), 275–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buchmann, C., & DiPrete, T. A. (2006). The growing female advantage in college completion: The role of family background and academic achievement. American Sociological Review, 71(4), 515–541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Butcher, K. F., & Case, A. (1994). The effect of sibling sex composition on women’s education and earnings. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 109(3), 531–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cameron, S. V., & Heckman, J. J. (1998). Life cycle schooling and dynamic selection bias: Models and evidence for five cohorts of American males. Journal of Political Economy, 106(2), 262–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Conley, D. (2000). Sibship sex composition: Effects on educational attainment. Social Science Research, 29, 441–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Conley, D., & Glauber, R. (2008). All in the family? Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 26(4), 297–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Erikson, R., & Jonsson, J. O. (1996). Explaining class inequality: The swedish test case. In R. Erikson & J. O. Jonsson (Eds.), Can education be equalized? The swedish case in comparative perspective (pp. 1–64). Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  14. Erikson, R., Goldthorpe, J. H., & Portocarero, L. (1979). Intergenerational class mobility in three Western European societies: England, France and Sweden. British Journal of Sociology, 30, 415–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gary-Bobo, R. J., Picard, N. and Prieto, A. (2006) Birth order and sibship sex composition as instruments in the study of education and earnings. CPER Discussion Paper DP5514.Google Scholar
  16. Härkönen, J. (2009) Birth order, socioeconomic background, and sibling inequalities in educational attainment in West Germany. Unpublished manuscript, presented at the RC28 Spring Meeting 2009 in Beijing.Google Scholar
  17. Hauser, R. M., & Kuo, H. H. D. (1998). Does the gender composition of sibships affect women’s educational attainment? Journal of Human Resources, 33(3), 644–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hertwig, R., Nerissa Davis, J., & Sulloway, F. J. (2002). Parental investment: How an equity motive can produce inequality. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 728–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hillmert, S., & Jacob, M. (2003). Social inequality in higher education: Is vocational training a pathway leading to or away from university? European Sociological Review, 19(3), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hillmert, S., & Jacob, M. (2010). Selections and social selectivity on the academic track: A life-course analysis of educational attainment in Germany. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(1), 59–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jacob, M. (2004). Mehrfachausbildungen in Deutschland. Karriere, Collage, Kompensation?. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.Google Scholar
  22. Jacob, M. and Weiss, F. (2009). Class Origin and Young Adults’ Re-Enrollment Decisions. Unpublished manuscript, University of Mannheim.Google Scholar
  23. Jacobs, J. A. (1996). Gender inequality and higher education. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 153–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jaeger, M. M. (2009). Sibship size and educational attainment. A joint test of the confluence model and the resource dilution hypothesis. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 27(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kaestner, R. (1997). Are brothers really better? Sibling sex composition and educational achievement revisited. Journal of Human Resources, 32(2), 250–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Leuze, K., & Strauß, S. (2009). Lohnungleichheiten zwischen Akademikerinnen und Akademikern: der Einfluss von fachlicher Spezialisierung, frauendominierten Fächern und beruflicher Segregation. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 38(4), 262–281.Google Scholar
  27. Mayer, K. U., Müller, W., & Pollak, R. (2007). Institutional change and inequalities of access in german higher education. In Y. Shavit, R. Arum, A. Gamoran, & G. Menahem (Eds.), Expansion, differentiation and stratification in higher education: A comparative study (pp. 240–265). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mood, C. (2010). Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review, 26(1), 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Powell, B., & Steelman, L. C. (1989). The liability of having brothers—playing for college and the sex composition of the family. Sociology of Education, 62(2), 134–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Powell, B., & Steelman, L. C. (1990). Beyond sibship size: sibling density, sex composition, and educational outcomes. Social Forces, 69, 181–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rabe-Hesketh, S., & Skrondal, A. (2008). Multilevel and longitudinal modeling using stata (2nd ed.). College Station Texas: Stata Press.Google Scholar
  32. Reimer, D. and Pollak, R. (forthcoming). Educational expansion and its consequences for vertical and horizontal inequalities in access to higher education in West Germany. European Sociological Review. doi: 10.1093/esr/jcp029 (1–17)].
  33. Reimer, D., & Schröder, J. (2006). Tracing the Gender Wage Gap: Income Differences between University Graduates in Germany. Zeitschrift für Arbeitsmarktforschung, 2, 235–253.Google Scholar
  34. Reimer, D., & Steinmetz, S. (2009). Highly educated but in the wrong field? Educational specialisation and labour market risks of men and women in Spain and Germany in higher education. European Societies, 11(5), 723–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Schomburg, H., & Teichler, U. (2006). Higher education and graduate employment in Europe. Results from graduate in surveys in twelve Countries. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Shavit, Y., Arum, R., Gamoran, A., & Menahem, G. (Eds.). (2007). Stratification in higher education: A comparative study. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Steelman, L. C., Powell, B., Werum, R., & Carter, S. (2002). Reconsidering the effects of sibling configuration: Recent advances and challenges. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zanjonc, R. B., & Markus, G. B. (1975). Birth order and intellectual development. Psychological Review, 82(1), 74–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesUniversity of MannheimMannheimGermany

Personalised recommendations