Table of Contents

Education, Occupation and Social Origin

Education, Occupation and Social Origin

A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities

Edited by Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabrielle Ballarino

This innovative book takes a comparative approach to the social origin–education–destination triangle (OED), looking at the intergenerational transmission of advantage in 14 countries. The intention is to debate the claim that education is the ‘great social equalizer’. The contributors examine the relation between family background, education and occupational achievement over time and across educational levels, focusing on the relationship between individuals’ social origins and their income and occupational outcomes. It will be of interest to academics and students of social policy and those interested in social inequalities and their reproduction over time.

Chapter 1: Education as the great equalizer: a theoretical framework

Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabriele Ballarino

Subjects: education, education policy, social policy and sociology, education policy, sociology and sociological theory


A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm . . . . Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar. (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV) The gun has been called the great equalizer, meaning that a small person with a gun is equal to a large person, but it is a great equalizer in another way, too. It insures that the people are the equal of their government whenever that government forgets that it is servant and not master of the governed. (Ronald Reagan) Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. (Horacio Mann) The quotations at the top of this page suggest that weapons, death and education make people equal. A king ultimately faces death as a beggar, an armed small person is equal to a large one, and an educated poor person can overcome the disadvantage and become rich. However, the tomb of a king is usually very different from that of a beggar, if the latter is so lucky as to be buried in one. Moreover, we also know that there are substantial differences in life expectancy between a beggar and a king.