A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities
Edited by Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabrielle Ballarino
Chapter 15: Education and the intergenerational transmission of advantage in the US
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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