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Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America

Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America

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Published by: 420 on Sep 27, 2007
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Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North AmericaA Report Supported by the Sutton Trust
Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Stephen Machin
1
 April 2005
 
Embargo: 00.01 HOURS Monday April 25
th
 Contacts: Jo BlandenJ.Blanden@lse.ac.ukTel: 020 78523524Paul GreggP.Gregg@bristol.ac.ukTel: 0117 9289083
1
 
Jo Blanden and Stephen Machin are in the Department of Economics, University College Londonand Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, Paul Gregg is in the Departmentof Economics, University of Bristol and Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics.
 
Executive Summary
The level of intergenerational mobility in society is seen by many as a measure of theextent of equality of economic and social opportunity. It captures the degree of equality in life chances - the extent to which a person’s circumstances duringchildhood are reflected in their success in later life, or on the flip-side, the extent towhich individuals can make it by virtue of their own talents, motivation and luck.Under a project supported by the Sutton Trust we have sought to understand moreabout how intergenerational mobility compares across countries in Europe and NorthAmerica. In addition, work has been carried out to understand more about mobility inBritain: how mobility has changed over time; and the role of education in shapingopportunity.The key findings are:
 
International comparisons indicate that intergenerational mobility in Britain is of the same order of magnitude as in the US, but that these countries are substantiallyless mobile than Canada and the Nordic countries. Germany also looks to be moremobile than the UK and US, but a small sample size prevents us drawing a firmconclusion.
 
Intergenerational mobility fell markedly over time in Britain, with there beingless mobility for a cohort of people born in 1970 compared to a cohort born in1958. No similar change is observed in the US.
 
Part of the reason for the decline in mobility has been the increasing relationshipbetween family income and educational attainment between these cohorts. Thiswas because additional opportunities to stay in education at both age 16 and age18 disproportionately benefited those from better-off backgrounds.
 
For a more recent birth cohort (born in the late 1970s and early 1980s), there is amore mixed picture on changes in educational inequality. Their educationparticipation in the 1990s was characterized by a narrowing in the gap between thestaying on rates at 16 between rich and poor children, but a further widening in theinequality of access to higher education.2
 
 
The expansion of higher education since the late 1980s has so fardisproportionately benefited those from more affluent families.
 
The research shows clearly, using a variety of identification techniques, thatfamily income in the childhood years does make a genuine difference toeducational outcomes, rather than reflecting other aspects which differ acrossfamilies. However, the estimates are not able to say definitively whether thiscausal effect has increased in strength over time.
Implications
 International comparisons of intergenerational mobility show that Britain, like theUnited States, is at the lower end of international comparisons of mobility. Alsointergenerational mobility has declined in Britain at a time of rising incomeinequality. The strength of the relationship between educational attainment and familyincome, especially for access to higher education, is at the heart of Britain’s lowmobility culture. If improving intergenerational mobility is viewed as desirable, thisclearly suggests that from early ages, including prior to school entry, Britain needs toadopt a strategy to equalize opportunities. This should apply at all stages of theeducation process, and include support during the early years, for both parents andchildren; policies to improve the performance of deprived children in schools; andsteps to promote participation at the post-compulsory level. Such policies have thepotential to enhance intergenerational mobility by ensuring greater equality of educational opportunity.3

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