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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 15: Education and the intergenerational transmission of advantage in the US

Florencia Torche

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


Social scientists consider the level of intergenerational socio-economic association as a measure of inequality of opportunity. A strong intergenerational association indicates that socio-economic position is closely replicated across generations. A weak association indicates that individual attainment is relatively independent from social origins, such that individuals of different social origins have a similar chance to succeed or fail. Intergenerational mobility is the opposite of association: a weak intergenerational association identifies a high level of mobility. The intergenerational association is, naturally, a crude measure of equality of opportunity (Jencks and Tach 2006; Swift 2005). There are many mechanisms leading to intergenerational association that do not question equality of opportunity; for example genetic inheritance, as small a role as it may play (Bjorklund et al. 2006). There are other mechanisms that are difficult to modify, even if they contribute to the transmission of advantage, such as children’s household socialization, or assortative mating. Family socialization may contribute to forming habits and values that help socio-economic success (Patterson and Hastings 2007); assortative mating may exacerbate socio-economic inequality across households, making formative environment of children more unequal (Schwartz 2010). However, most countries do not attempt to directly modify these factors because they are considered to belong to the private domain, and therefore seen as unsuitable objects of policy intervention.

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