A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities
Edited by Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabrielle Ballarino
Chapter 16: The intergenerational transmission of inequality and education in fourteen countries: a comparison
Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. (Nelson Mandela 1994: 166) The core topic of this book has been the direct effect of social origin (DESO) on achieved social position, over and above own education. Put briefly, this is the phenomenon by which socio-economic inequality is transmitted from one generation to the next, even when two individuals have the same levels of education. The quotation from Nelson Mandela which opens this final chapter reminds us of the practical implications of the ‘education as the great equalizer’ argument. If education actually works as Mandela writes, it is the great equalizer, and those who have achieved the same level of education should also achieve similar social positions. If, on the contrary, a sizeable DESO exists, and is stable over time, then Mandela’s statement does not provide an accurate description of the processes underlying social stratification in contemporary societies.
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