Social Mobility

The Economist website features an interesting graph that shows the correlation of a father’s educational status on the probability that a son will obtain a university degree  –  together with Luxembourg, this correlation is strongest for Ireland.

17 replies on “Social Mobility”

What matters much more is the correlation between a father’s educational status and how much their children earn. Although it might be a tad difficult for academics to accept, not everyone needs to go to university to prosper, or even wants to go to university. In a low-tax entrepreneurial economy, there are opportunites for those not going to university to prosper. Some of my school friends didn’t go to university but are much richer than I am. I was quite good academically, but had no business flair. They had business flair, left school at 18 and set up their own businesses.

By this yardstick, social mobility in Ireland is better than in the majority of EU countries. But, in particular, it is strikingly better than in the UK. If the graph is correct, when it comes to making a good living, the non-academically-gifted are at considerably less of a disadvantage in Ireland than in the UK. This fits in with other data showing the (relative) poverty rate in the UK much higher than in Ireland. Probably also helps explain the phenomenon of racist political parties like the BNP in the UK, which have no counterpart in Ireland.

This is consistent with the results in a paper I co-authored, using a sample of OECD countries (though not Luxembourg as far as I recall):
`Intergenerational Mobility and Education Equality’ (with Arnaud Chevalier, Dorren McMahon) in Education and Inequality across Europe (editors Peter Dolton, Rita Asplund and Erling Barth) (2009) London: Edward Elgar.

Indeed, the orange line for the UK seems to bear you out on that.

One skewing factor for Ireland may be the huge expansion in tertiary education that has happened in the last twenty years. I’m not sure if this is factored in?

How do the rates compare for rates for going to tertiary education overall?


Business flair? Let us see how well they do in the depression then!
In a bubble, any fool who can borrow and all can when credit is given so freely, will prosper. The trick is to invest the proceeds into property which will always go up in value!!!!!!! HAhaha! How is their acumen now?

Uni is a yardstick that is countable. The ability to think is more valuable. But not documented. I propose a university, free of state interference. Dedicated not to knowledge, which changes as the IPCC or the SM dictate, but to the ability to assess, acquire and understand knowledge only. Participants promise a tithe, lasting for thirty years. All graduates will have performed well in certain unpublished indeed secret tests. They will conspire in untraceable ways, to steal from the stupid and evil and condemn their offspring to poverty while endowing their own in sinecures. Yes, the idea is not original!

Is anyone able to explain the exclusion from this research of half the population? I seem to recall a long-standing claim, in the context of development, that the education of women was a more significant factor in shaping the life chances of children than the education of men.

@Colin Scott

Great question! Assumes the mothers harmoniously and perfectly correlate in social class terms with the fathers. Come on ye radical feminists – rally to the cause (-;

@Rory O’Farrell

Met this on the holodeck recently during a brief fling with Seven_of_Nine (censored; I survived) …. course Craig has the technology … more on the way from Matt Cooper shortly ……… Craig Barrett has international cred in this area … Batteen and Hazeen take note!

@Colin Scott: there are two distinct issues here the sex of the child and the sex of the parent. Why that article in the Economist looked at sons I don’t know, but looking at the education of the father rather than the mother makes sense. Basically the two are highly correlated (fathers & mothers education) so if you put both in you find it very difficult to separate out the effects but it is generally clear that if you had to pick one you would pick the father’s. That’s because father’s education determines a household’s SES more than mothers. Using the mother’s education is unlikely to change the picture much. The paper I mentioned above looks at both boys & girls but also uses father’s education.

@Rory O Farrell: by “return to education” economists normally mean the effect of additional years of education on one’s earnings. By that criterion, various cross-country comparisons have shown that the returns in Ireland are actually higher than all or most Western developed countries although typically less than in developing countries.

I am not sure I understand the first question. I don’t recall huge sex differences. That link which was conveniently put up has a WP version of the paper, which is close to the published paper.
I’d had to dig up the raw data to check what the correlation is & with parental education being in levels you really need a categorical measure of association. With women’s education levels rising probably more than men’s (i.e. catching up), I suspect you get more assortative mating so the correlation increases but I might be wrong.

@ kevin denny

Ta for the link. I’m interested in this area, and support the view that ‘Irish Welfare State’ a middle-class construction (the property fetish again!), and not for the ‘working class’ as in in other European countries [Breen, Hannon, Rothman, Whelan 1990] …….. and that following a brief period of change circa 60s due to the savvy pragmatism of Whitaker and Lemass, that class structure has solidified ………… which means that Gov policy is institutionalising a Mafia and an underclass – and those morons in power at the mo are supporting the Shawnnee/Fingers brigade and diverting funds from relevant areas and Limerick and Dublin etc which inevitably leads to producing another generation of the same ol same ol ….

I’ll get to the working paper later on ……..

The most interesting aspect of this chart is the diversity of results among these States which are all in the EU.

Not only are there huge variations among these States in the relationships between a father’s education has on a son’s education and earnings, there appears to be no correlation whatever between the impact on the son’s education and impact on the son’s earnings.

Even in the most egalitarian society, I would expect that sons would tend to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, including in their education. But if third-level education was nearly universal (for males in this study!), this tendency would not produce an appreciable difference for those whose fathers had third-level degrees (i.e. practically the whole population). Is that the explanation for Austria in this table?


One needs to interpret in broader terms ……… the institutional foundations, history of class relations, distribution of power etc and most centrally – whose interests are served in Gov policy decisions ……..

On Ireland – think ‘resource capture’ as a first cousin of ‘regulatory capture’ [cf land, professions, etc]…….. ed credentials and associated welfare state jobs……. and start wtih the foundation in ‘property’ broadly conceived over the past 150 yrs or so ……………. they haven’t gone away you know!

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