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Survey Guidelines

The measurement of migrants' educational attainment in surveys

Since the highest level of education achieved is usually captured in German surveys by specific German school-leaving and training qualifications, the corresponding questionnaire items are often difficult to answer for persons with foreign qualifications. This guideline provides an overview of different approaches to measuring education among persons with foreign educational qualifications, especially immigrants, and their suitability for different survey contexts. First, the coding of educational variables is discussed. This is based either on the German education system or on classifications developed for international comparison. The derivation of years of education is another way to code the data in a comparable way. Then, different survey instruments are presented that try to solve the problem in different ways: the use of German standard items, the use of generic response categories, the use of country-of-origin specific response categories, and the use of a database-based tool. The solutions developed in the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) and the National Education Panel Study (NEPS) are presented in detail. Finally, existing interpretation problems and limitations are further discussed, including the fit of the "highest educational attainment" indicator for different theoretical concepts among migrants.


Schneider, S., Chincarini, E., Liebau E., Ortmanns, V., Pagel, L., & Schönmoser, C. (2023). Die Messung von Bildung bei Migrantinnen und Migranten in Umfragen. Mannheim, GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences (SDM – Survey Guidelines). DOI: 10.15465/gesis-sg_040