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