Reversal of gender differences in Educational Attainment – historical analysis of the West German Case

Becker, Rolf (2014). Reversal of gender differences in Educational Attainment – historical analysis of the West German Case. Educational research, 56(2), pp. 184-201. Routledge, Taylor & Francis 10.1080/00131881.2014.898914

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Background information: During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, West Germany witnessed a reversal of gender differences in educational attainment, as females began to outperform males. Purpose: The main objective was to analyse which processes were behind the reversal of gender differences in educational attainment after 1945. The theoretical reflections and empirical evidence presented for the US context by DiPrete and Buchmann (Gender-specific trends in the value of education and the emerging gender gap in college completion, Demography 43: 1–24, 2006) and Buchmann, DiPrete, and McDaniel (Gender inequalities in education, Annual Review of Sociology 34: 319–37, 2008) are considered and applied to the West German context. It is suggested that the reversal of gender differences is a consequence of the change in female educational decisions, which are mainly related to labour market opportunities and not, as sometimes assumed, a consequence of a ‘boy’s crisis’. Sample: Several databases, such as the German General Social Survey, the German Socio-economic Panel and the German Life History Study, are employed for the longitudinal analysis of the educational and occupational careers of birth cohorts born in the twentieth century. Design and methods: Changing patterns of eligibility for university studies are analysed for successive birth cohorts and gender. Binary logistic regressions are employed for the statistical modelling of the individuals’ achievement, educational decision and likelihood for social mobility – reporting average marginal effects (AME). Results: The empirical results suggest that women’s better school achievement being constant across cohorts does not contribute to the explanation of the reversal of gender differences in higher education attainment, but the increase of benefits for higher education explains the changing educational decisions of women regarding their transition to higher education. Conclusions: The outperformance of females compared with males in higher education might have been initialised by several social changes, including the expansion of public employment, the growing demand for highly qualified female workers in welfare and service areas, the increasing returns of women’s increased education and training, and the improved opportunities for combining family and work outside the home. The historical data show that, in terms of (married) women’s increased labour market opportunities and female life-cycle labour force participation, the raising rates of women’s enrolment in higher education were – among other reasons – partly explained by their rising access to service class positions across birth cohorts, and the rise of their educational returns in terms of wages and long-term employment.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Education > Sociology of Education

UniBE Contributor:

Becker, Rolf


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 370 Education
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Routledge, Taylor & Francis




Rolf Becker

Date Deposited:

06 Mar 2015 07:49

Last Modified:

22 May 2019 13:57

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

reversal of gender differences, inequality of educational opportunity, educational attainment, achievement, primary and secondary effects, returns to education


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