Fields of education

In addition to respondents’ highest educational qualification, which relates to hierarchical differentiation of education, some surveys also collect data on their main field of education. Fields of education and training describe the main subjects or domain of an education programme or qualification. It thus reflects the horizontal differentiation within educational levels.

Fields of education and training are an important topic in several areas of Social Science research, such as labour market research, social and gender inequality research (see "further readings" below). In labour market research, returns to or correlates of fields of education as well as (mis-)match between field of education and occupation or industry are important topics. Studies in social inequality research show that selection into fields of education is influenced by family background, predominantly fathers’ occupation. However, one study also shows that choice of field of study does not have an impact on social mobility, over and above the effect of educational attainment. Research on gender inequalities shows that, despite comparable levels of academic achievement, women are under-represented in 'hard' sciences such as maths and physics and instead predominantly study the arts and humanities. This segregation to some degree also explains the gender income gap because the returns to female-dominated fields are lower than the returns to male dominated fields.

Current measurement practice involves mostly two approaches: The first approach uses a closed question with highly aggregated response categories (mostly corresponding to the first digit of the ISCED fields of education), which are difficult to use for respondents. The second approach uses an open question, allowing respondents to provide the information that they consider most relevant and reflecting the real diversity of fields of education and training in any country, which however requires expensive post-coding. Given the disadvantages of these approaches, a measurement tool for fields of education was developed in the SERISS-project to provide a compromise solution which lies in between these two extremes. Some countries already use national look-up lists for (mostly national) surveys, which comes close to the idea behind surveycodings.

The database specifying all fields of education in 34 languages and their coding at the 3-digit level of ISCED-F (for details, see here) as well as the associated report can be downloaded below. You can do a live search of the database and browse the search tree for all countries using these 34 languages here.

Further readings:

Bradley, K., & Charles, M. (2009). Indulging Our Gendered Selves ? Sex Segregation by Field of Study in 44 Countries. American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 924–976. https://doi.org/10.1086/595942

Gerber, T. P., & Cheung, S. Y. (2008). Horizontal Stratification in Postsecondary Education : Forms , Explanations , and Implications. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 299–318. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.34.040507.134604

Jackson, M., Luijkx, R., & Pollak, R. (2008). Educational Fields of Study and the Intergenerational Mobility Process in Comparative Perspective. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49(4–5), 369–388.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0020715208093082

Reimer, D., & Pollak, R. (2010). Educational Expansion and Its Consequences for Vertical and Horizontal Inequalities in Access to Higher Education in West Germany. European Sociological Review, 26(4), 415–430. https://doi.org/10.1093/esr/jcp029

Smyth, E., & Steinmetz, S. (2008). Field of Study and Gender Segregation in. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49(4–5), 157–181. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020715208093077

Van de Werfhorst, H. G., & Luijkx, R. (2010). Educational Field of Study and Social Mobility: Disaggregating Social Origin and Education. Soiology, 44(4), 695–715. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038510369362

Verhaest, D., & Sellami, S. (2017). Differences in Horizontal and Vertical Mismatches Across Countries and Fields of Study. Internationla Labour Review, 156(1), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1564-913X.2015.00031.x

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