Economist Pia Pinger wins prestigious ERC Starting Grant


Pinger’s research project investigates why the socio-economic status of parents has such a strong influence on young individuals’ educational and occupational decision-making / 1.5 million euros over five years

Professor Dr Pia Pinger, professor at the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences of the University of Cologne, receives an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council for her project ‘OPPORTUNITY – Inequalities in decision-making at critical junctions in life: The role of ability signals for sorting and selection’. Pinger will receive a total of 1.5 million euros over a period of five years to investigate  socio-economic inequalities that emerge at critical educational and occupational junctions early in the life cycle.

School track decisions, university or major choice, and initial job finding are all decisive for seizing life opportunities. When individuals from different socio-economic groups make different high-stakes decisions at these critical junctions, this can reinforce existing inequalities and lead to lock-in effects that are difficult to undo later in life. Understanding decision-making at these stages is thus important to analyze and tackle inequality of opportunity.

The aim of the OPPORTUNITY project is to understand why the socio-economic status of parents has such a great influence on young individuals’ educational, occupational and labour market decisions and what role grades, recommendations and other so-called ‘ability signals’ play in this. For example, the project aims at providing answers to the questions whether children from families with different socio-economic status systematically receive different evaluations (e.g. during the transition from primary school to secondary school) or interpret the same evaluations differently. Pinger will also investigate how evaluations could be used more effectively in application processes, for example to counter stereotypical assessments by selection committees or HR departments. Further research questions of the project revolve around the effects of grade inflation and grade distributions, for example in the choice of degree programmes or in application processes.

“The ERC Starting Grant allows me to shed new light on the emergence of socio-economic inequalities early in the life cycle to better understand why we observe such low rates of social mobility in many countries,” Pinger said. “The unequal distribution of life chances is one of the most pressing societal challenges of our time. Innovative research in this area is needed to counter inequality, polarization, and diminishing social cohesion.”

Pia Pinger has been Professor of Applied Microeconometrics and Behavioral Economics at the University of Cologne since 2019. She is also Principal Investigator in the Cluster of Excellence ‘ECONtribute: Markets & Public Policy’ and in the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Economic Perspectives on Societal Challenges’.

Press & Communication

Jan Voelkel
Tel. +49 221 470 2356


Media Contact:

Prof. Dr. Pia Pinger
ECONtribute, University of Cologne
Tel. +49 221 470 8304