Education, Occupation and Social Origin
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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.
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Chapter 16: The intergenerational transmission of inequality and education in fourteen countries: a comparison

Gabriele Ballarino and Fabrizio Bernardi


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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