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Changes in Educational Inequality


  • Jo Blanden
  • Paul Gregg
  • Stephen Machin



This paper looks at changes over time in the extent of educational inequality - defined as educational attainment by people from higher relative to lower income backgrounds. It draws upon household and longitudinal data sources in both the UK and US to look at this highly policy relevant question. The data shows a sharp rise in educational inequality over time in the UK, but with the stage of the education sequence mattering. In particular the rapid expansion of higher education seen in the recent past in the UK disproportionately benefited children from relatively affluent backgrounds. The international comparisons show different patterns of change in the association between education and family income over time in the UK relative to the US. We link these findings on changes in educational inequality to the literature on intergenerational mobility, arguing that international differences in educational systems matter for the extent of economic and social mobility across generations.

Suggested Citation

  • Jo Blanden & Paul Gregg & Stephen Machin, 2003. "Changes in Educational Inequality," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 03/079, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:03/079

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dearden, Lorraine & Machin, Stephen & Reed, Howard, 1997. "Intergenerational Mobility in Britain," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(440), pages 47-66, January.
    2. Acemoglu, Daron & Pischke, J. -S., 2001. "Changes in the wage structure, family income, and children's education," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(4-6), pages 890-904, May.
    3. 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.
    4. Stephen Machin & John Van Reenen, 1998. "Technology and Changes in Skill Structure: Evidence from Seven OECD Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1215-1244.
    5. Eli Bekman & John Bound & Stephen Machin, 1998. "Implications of Skill-Biased Technological Change: International Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1245-1279.
    6. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
    7. 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.
    8. 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, January.
    9. Sandra E. Black & Amir Sufi, 2002. "Who Goes to College? Differential Enrollment by Race and Family Background," NBER Working Papers 9310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. David Greenaway & Michelle Haynes, 2003. "Funding Higher Education in The UK: The Role of Fees and Loans," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(485), pages 150-166, February.
    11. Galindo-Rueda, Fernando & Vignoles, Anna, 2002. "Class Ridden or Meritocratic? An Economic Analysis of Recent Changes in Britain," IZA Discussion Papers 677, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    Cited by:

    1. Jo Blanden, 2004. "Family Income and Educational Attainment: A Review of Approaches and Evidence for Britain," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(2), pages 245-263, Summer.
    2. Heineck Guido & Riphahn Regina T., 2009. "Intergenerational Transmission of Educational Attainment in Germany – The Last Five Decades," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 229(1), pages 36-60, February.
    3. Javier Valbuena, 2011. "Family background, gender and cohort effects on schooling decisions," Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación volume 6,in: Antonio Caparrós Ruiz (ed.), Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación 6, edition 1, volume 6, chapter 15, pages 258-290 Asociación de Economía de la Educación.
    4. Lorraine Dearden & Emla Fitzsimons & Gill Wyness, 2011. "The Impact of Tuition Fees and Support on University Participation in the UK," CEE Discussion Papers 0126, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
    5. Marty McGuigan & Sandra McNally & Gill Wyness, 2012. "Student Awareness of Costs and Benefits of Educational Decisions: Effects of an Information Campaign," CEE Discussion Papers 0139, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
    6. Galindo-Rueda, Fernando & Vignoles, Anna, 2004. "The Heterogeneous Effect of Selection in Secondary Schools: Understanding the Changing Role of Ability," IZA Discussion Papers 1245, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Dan Anderberg & Alessandro Balestrino, 2008. "The Political Economy of Post-Compulsory Education Policy with Endogenous Credit Constraints," CESifo Working Paper Series 2304, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Fernando Galindo-Rueda & Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez & Anna Vignoles, 2004. "The Widening Socio-Economic Gap in UK Higher Education," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 190(1), pages 75-88, October.
    9. James, Jonathan, 2015. "Health and education expansion," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 193-215.

    More about this item


    education; family income; education sequences; education systems; intergenerational mobility;

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education

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