Jesper Fels Birkelund

Jesper Fels Birkelund

Tenure Track Assistant Professor

I am a sociologist in the fields of education, ethnic inequalities, and social mobility. In my empirical research, I use state-of-the-art statistical methods to analyze various types of register and survey data. My recent work appears in leading peer-reviewed journals such as Social Forces, Social Science Research, European Sociological Review, and British Journal of Sociology.

I am the 2022 winner of the ECSR prize for best PhD thesis.


My research on education examines how the design of the education system shapes the life-course of students and patterns of social inequality. By combining theories of human capital and social identity formation, I examine how schooling affects not only cognitive abilities but also social-psychological skills and, through both sets of skills, future life outcomes such as occupation and earnings. My research contributes to current political debates about the value of vocational education and training by showing that such training increases the conscientiousness of students, leading to earnings on par with those of academic students.

Ethnic inequalities

In my research on ethnic inequalities, I engage with the apparent paradox that many children of immigrants in Western countries express high educational aspirations even though their academic performance is poor. In my 2020 European Sociological Review paper, I develop a counterfactual analytical model that quantifies these aspirations and evaluates their potential positive and negative consequences. This work speaks to debates over whether education systems across Europe are equipped at handling the particular needs of ethnic minority students.

Social mobility

My research on social mobility considers the processes through which parental resources influence children’s labor market attainment. This work draws on theories of intergenerational transmissions of human, cultural, social, and economic capital to examine how children draw on these resources to secure well-paying jobs. Currently, I work on integrating the literature on intergenerational transmissions with a micro-class approach. I argue that parental resources are particularly impactful when parents and children are educated within the same field of study. In this work, I use firm linkage data to study potential mechanisms such as parents’ occupational networks and inheritance of family firms.

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