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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 11: Is education the great equalizer for the chances of social mobility in Spain?

Fabrizio Bernardi

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


Whether one observes a direct effect of social origin (DESO) on labour market success over and above own education is a bottom-line case for the debate on the intergenerational reproduction of inequality and education-based meritocracy. If there is a DESO, a flagrant deviation from a scenario of education-based meritocracy occurs (Goldthorpe 2003, 1996). In this chapter I address the four research questions at the core of this book and I investigate whether there is a DESO on labour market success in Spain, whether it is weaker among those with higher education, whether it has declined over time and whether returns on education in labour market outcomes have accordingly increased over time. The analyses refer to the second half of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first century and end just before the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008 in Spain. Over these years there was a huge increase in educational participation, an expansion of the public sector and a deep transformation of the occupational structure, with a reduction of the employment in the agricultural sector and a rise in the service sector (Gonzalez and Requena 2005; Ballarino et al. 2009; Saturnino 2013). Spain seems therefore an interesting case to test the hypotheses of the modernization theory and in particular of the EGE (education as the great equalizer) hypothesis, as set out in the Introduction of this volume. Previous social mobility studies in Spain have already documented a sizeable DESO.

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