Higher Education

, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 309–323 | Cite as

Social inequality in higher education and labour market in a period of institutional reforms: Italy, 1992–2007



The focus of this paper is on the relationships between social origin, participation in tertiary education (enrolment, drop-out, enrolment at second level and post-tertiary education) and occupational instability among university graduates in a recent period of university and labour market reforms (the differentiation of higher education due to the “Bologna process” and the flexibilization of employment contracts). In the first part of the paper we review these institutional reforms, discussing how they have changed the structure of opportunities and constraints for students and graduates. In the second part we analyse data from several cross-section waves of the Upper Secondary Graduates Survey and the University Graduates Survey which cover both pre- and post-reform cohorts. Results from logistic regression models show a slight decline in the association between parents’ education and enrolment in tertiary education, whereas there is a reduction and a new increase of inequality in drop-outs. We also find remarkable effects of parents’ education on enrolment in post-graduate courses, but smaller on the risks of having unstable jobs and both are mainly stable over time. Only a slight reduction of the role of social origin in university participation and in the transition to the labour market took place, but it seems not to be too closely connected to the specific reforms which occurred in the 1990s.


Higher education Bologna process Social inequality Graduates Labour market Institutional reforms Flexibilization 



We would like to thank the participants at the Equalsoc Workshops and Meetings in Mannheim (April 2009), Tallinn (June 2009), Copenhagen (November 2009) and the ISA-Rc28 Spring Meeting in Beijing (14-16 May 2009) for useful comments on a previous version of this paper. We would also thank, in particular, Gabriele Ballarino, Carlo Barone, Giovanna Fullin, Michael Gebel, Walter Müller, Emilio Reyneri, Steffen Schindler, Domingo Scisci, Paolo Trivellato, Felix Weiss, the guest editors’ and an anonymous referee for their help and comments during the preparation of this paper. This research was funded by a grant to Moris Triventi from the University of Milano-Bicocca, co-financed by Regione Lombardia through the “FSE-Dote Ricercatori” programme (Project: 25-AR). Statements and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and cannot be attributed to the financing institutions.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Social ResearchUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Social ResearchUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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