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Changes in Intergenerational Mobility in Britain

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  • Jo Blanden
  • Alissa Goodman
  • Paul Gregg
  • Stephen Machin

Abstract

This paper flatly contradicts the common view that anyone can make it in modern Britain. Indeed, rather then weakening, the link between an individual's earnings and those of his or her parents has strengthened. An important part of the explanation is that the expansion of higher education has benefited people from rich families much more than those from poor families. The extent of intergenerational mobility is frequently seen as a measure of the degree of equality of opportunity in society and considerable research has been devoted to obtaining an accurate estimate of it for a number of countries. However little is known about how these connections have altered through time. Sharp increases in educational attainment and rises in earnings (and living standards in general) in more recent generations mean that many observers seem to think that we now live in a more mobile, meritocratic society than in the past. Contrary to this, this research seems to show that where you come from matters more now than in the past. It appears that the extent of intergenerational mobility has actually fallen. The research uses unique data that follow two cohorts of children (one born in 1958, one born in 1970) through childhood and into adulthood. The latest data, collected in 2000, make it possible, for the first time, for researchers to get a good measure of the adult earnings of the second cohort. The key findings are: [1]The connection between earnings and parental income has strengthened for the more recent cohort. Estimates of the relationship between childhood family income and son's adult earnings show that for the 1958 cohort, a son from a family with twice as much income as a second family will earn about 12 percent more in his early thirties than a son from the second family. In the 1970 cohort, the same figure is 25 percent. Therefore, the degree of intergenerational transmission has risen by 13 percentage points. Results for daughters are very similar; [2] Part of the fall in mobility across generations is due to the fact that the expansion of the higher education system has benefited people from rich fa milies much more than those from poor families. This is particularly the case for daughters. The results show that differences in educational attainment across family background have led to a decline in equality of opportunity. This is despite the large expansion in postcompulsory schooling that occurred between the two cohorts. This may be unexpected to some observers, who see great gains in education and earnings from one generation to another and leave the story there. - But these gains have been unequally distributed across society. The majority of beneficiaries have been children from families who were already doing well. If, as seems to have happened, able children from lower income families are excluded from the expansion of education, this will lower national productivity and income in the long run. The implication for government policy is clear. If equality of opportunity is a serious goal of government, it can be facilitated in a way that can enhance economic welfare via policies directed at high ability children whose parents are doing less well.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE in its series CEE Discussion Papers with number 0026.

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Date of creation: Jun 2002
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Handle: RePEc:cep:ceedps:0026

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Web page: http://cee.lse.ac.uk/publications.htm

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  1. Daron Acemoglu & Jorn-Steffen Pischke, 2000. "Changes in the Wage Structure, Family Income, and Children's Education," NBER Working Papers 7986, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Susan E. Mayer & Leonard Michael Lopoo, 2001. "Has the Intergenerational Transmission of Economic Status Changed?," JCPR Working Papers 227, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  3. Lorraine Dearden & Steve Machin & Howard Reed, 1995. "Intergenerational mobility in Britain," IFS Working Papers W95/20, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  4. Nathan D. Grawe & Casey B. Mulligan, 2002. "Economic Interpretations of Intergenerational Correlations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 45-58, Summer.
  5. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
  6. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, . "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," University of Chicago - Population Research Center 84-10, Chicago - Population Research Center.
  7. Corak, Miles, 2001. "Are the Kids All Right? Intergenerational Mobility and Child Well-being in Canada," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2001171e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
  8. repec:ese:iserwp:2002-11 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Solon, Gary, 1999. "Intergenerational mobility in the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 29, pages 1761-1800 Elsevier.
  10. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2001. "Earnings mobility in the US: a new look at intergenerational inequality," Working Paper Series WP-01-18, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  11. Paul Gregg & Susan Harkness & Stephen Machin, 1999. "Poor kids: trends in child poverty in Britain, 1968-96," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 20(2), pages 163-187, June.
  12. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1998. "Life Cycle Schooling and Dynamic Selection Bias: Models and Evidence for Five Cohorts of American Males," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 262-333, April.
  13. David G. Blanchflower & Richard B. Freeman, 2000. "Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number blan00-1.
  14. Grawe, Nathan D., 2006. "Lifecycle bias in estimates of intergenerational earnings persistence," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(5), pages 551-570, October.
  15. A. B. Atkinson, 1981. "On Intergenerational Income Mobility in Britain," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 3(2), pages 194-218, January.
  16. repec:sae:niesru:v:166:y::i:1:p:87-96 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Dickens, Richard, 2000. "The Evolution of Individual Male Earnings in Great Britain: 1975-95," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(460), pages 27-49, January.
  18. Solon, Gary, 1989. "Biases in the Estimation of Intergenerational Earnings Correlations," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(1), pages 172-74, February.
  19. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Dynamics of Educational Attainment for Black, Hispanic, and White Males," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 455-499, June.
  20. Machin, Stephen, 1996. "Wage Inequality in the UK," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(1), pages 47-64, Spring.
  21. John Hobcraft, 1998. "Intergenerational and Life-Course Transmission of Social Exclusion: Influences and Childhood Poverty, Family Disruption and Contact with the Police," CASE Papers case15, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
  22. Grawe, Nathan D., 2003. "Life Cycle Bias in the Estimation of Intergenerational Earnings Persistence," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2003207e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
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  1. Social mobility matters, and government can affect the mechanisms which promote it
    by Blog Admin in British Politics and Policy at LSE on 2013-11-04 14:00:12
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