In this study we investigate how formal and informal differentiation in Russia’s secondary education maintains the inequality of educational opportunities and thereby facilitates the reproduction of social inequalities. Specifically, we study the role of social background in shaping educational success and educational pathways of Russian students. We also disentangle primary and secondary effects of social background, which has not been considered in the earlier literature on inequalities in Russian education. For our empirical analysis, we use data from the Russian Panel Study of Trajectories in Education and Careers (TrEC). The original sample of the TrEC is the TIMSS 2011 sample, representative for the cohort of Russian students in 8th grade. In particular, we have shown empirically that the secondary effect of social background (i.e. its residual effect net of students’ academic achievement) affects allocation into different types of schools before tracking, the track choice itself, the aspirations towards higher education and the chances of admission into high-quality higher education institutions. In addition, we have found that the type of school chosen before tracking and the track choice itself shape future educational outcomes independently of social background. Our findings therefore suggest that Russia’s educational system cannot offset the perpetuation of social advantage and is therefore not completely efficient in providing equality of educational opportunity.

Keywords: inequality of educational opportunities, tracking, bypass, primary and secondary effect, TrEC, Russia