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The Welfare Effects of Social Mobility


  • Justina A.V. Fischer


The question whether a socially mobile society is conducive to subjective well-being (SWB) has rarely been investigated. This paper fills this gap by analyzing the SWB effects of intergenerational earnings mobility and equality in education at the societal level. Using socio-demographic information on 44 000 individuals in 30 OECD countries obtained from the World Values Survey, this study shows that living in a socially mobile society is conducive to individual life satisfaction. Differentiating between perceived and actual social mobility, we find that both exert rather independent effects, particularly in their interplay with income inequality. We identify a positive interaction of perceived social mobility that mitigates its overall SWB lowering effect, supporting Alesina et al. (2004). In contrast, a high degree of actual social mobility yields an overall impact of income inequality that is SWB lowering, while for low social mobility the effect of inequality is positive. These interactions hold stronger for pre-transfer than post-transfer income inequality. Actual social mobility appears to be appreciated only by conservative persons, while leftist oriented individuals are indifferent. Robustness is tested using a world sample. La question de savoir si une société socialement mobile est prédisposée au bien-être subjectif (SWB, d’après le sigle anglais) a rarement fait l’objet d’étude. Ce document vient combler ce manque en la matière en analysant les effets du SWB quant à la mobilité et l’égalité intergénérationnelle des gains dans l’éducation à un niveau sociétal. Cette étude s’est servie d’une information socio-démographique comptant 44 000 individus dans 30 pays membres de l’OCDE tirée de l’enquête World Values Survey. Cette étude montre que le fait de vivre dans une société socialement mobile est propice à une satisfaction de vie individuelle. En séparant la mobilité sociale perçue à celle qui est réelle, nous observons que les deux exercent une influence plutôt indépendante, en particulier dans leur action mutuelle avec les inégalités de revenus. Une interaction positive de mobilité sociale perçue est identifiée, celle-ci limitant son influence globale du bien-être subjectif à la baisse, selon Alesina et al. (2004). A contrario, un fort degré de mobilité sociale réelle génère une influence générale sur l’inégalité des revenus qui diminue le SWB alors que pour une faible mobilité sociale les effets de l’inégalité sont positifs. Ces relations réciproques sont plus solides pour des inégalités de revenus avant transferts qu’après transferts. La mobilité sociale réelle semble être appréciée seulement par les conservateurs, alors que les individus orientés plus à gauche sont indifférents. La robustesse est aussi examinée en utilisant un échantillon mondial.

Suggested Citation

  • Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Social Mobility," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 93, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:elsaab:93-en

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    Cited by:

    1. Bjornskov, Christian & Dreher, Axel & Fischer, Justina AV & Schnellenbach, Jan, 2009. "On the relation between income inequality and happiness: Do fairness perceptions matter?," MPRA Paper 19494, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Thomas Wai-Kee Yuen & Winnie Wan-Ling Chu, 2015. "Happiness in ASEAN member states," International Journal of Happiness and Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 2(1), pages 69-83.
    3. Juliana Londoño, 2011. "Movilidad social, preferencias redistributivas y felicidad en Colombia," REVISTA DESARROLLO Y SOCIEDAD, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE, December.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion

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