Volume 29 - Article 3 | Pages 71–84  

Parental Education and the Gender Gap in University Completion in Europe

By Anne McDaniel


Background: A female-favorable gender gap in university completion has emerged in the majority of industrialized countries in recent decades. Research in the United States demonstrates that the female advantage in college completion is the largest among individuals with low-educated parents, but it is not known whether this pattern also exists in European countries.

Objective: This article has three main objectives: 1) to illustrate the growing female advantage in university completion across European countries, 2) to provide evidence on whether gender differences in university completion differ by parents’ level of education in those countries, and 3) to investigate whether these patterns changed across cohorts.

Methods: Using pooled data from the 2002 to 2010 European Social Survey, this article investigates gender differences in university completion by levels of parental education across three birth cohorts (1955-1964, 1965-1974, 1975-1984) in 16 European countries.

Results: A female-favorable gender gap in university completion has emerged over time in the majority of European countries but, unlike in the United States, parental education has similar effects on university completion for males and females in a majority of countries and birth cohorts.

Conclusions: The analyses demonstrate that parental education has similar effects on males' and females’ university completion across the majority of European countries studied, and is not an important predictor of the female-favorable gender gap in university completion in Europe, in contrast to the United States.

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