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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Education Delayed or Education Denied? Evidence on the Historically Variable Role of Delayed Educational Careers in Former Communist Countries

Abstract

This paper explores why previous research failed to find any empirical evidence confirming the success of “Communist affirmative action” in reducing inequality in access to secondary and tertiary education in Bulgaria, the Czech republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia between 1948- 1989. I argue that scholars have too narrowly focused on ultimate educational attainment of each cohort and have thus overlooked important life-course and historical dynamics of educational stratification in former socialist countries. In this paper I study detailed information on educational careers from the Social Stratification in Eastern Europe after 1989 survey, distinguish the stratification of early and delayed school transitions and compare the differential degree of stratification of early and delayed transitions across cohorts. I show that delayed school transitions were usually stratified less on socioeconomic background than delayed transitions, yet this life-course differential was by no means stable over time. It turns out that delayed school transitions were stratified more strongly in cohorts, in which early transitions were stratified less as a result of the “Communist Affirmative Action”. These two offsetting tendencies were overlooked by previous research and combined to produce and overall stable effect of SES on school transitions. I conclude that delayed education careers worked against the success of the egalitarian policies and offered a highly selective second chance for socioeconomically advantaged and politically disadvantaged students. This finding is statistically robust and is identified even in models that control for unmeasured individual-level heterogeneity. I argue that scholars should pay more attention to detailed educational careers and should not only study highest degree completed as otherwise their results may be biased and/or incomplete.

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