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What influences people’s social position most: their family background or their skills?

Gøsta Esping-Andersen, Universidade Pompeu Fabra; Jorge Cimentada, Max Planck Institute of Demographic Research;

In all advanced democracies, the children of parents with higher education levels have more probabilities of reaching high social positions, regardless of their skills. However, people who have a high level of skills enjoy better life prospects, even if they originate from less favourable family backgrounds.
Key points
  • 1
       The relative influence of family background and skills – cognitive and non-cognitive – on social mobility is analysed across 21 advanced democracies.
  • 2
       In general, the children of people with higher education levels have greater probabilities than others of attaining a better social position. Furthermore, they are better protected against descending to the working class, even if they have a relatively low level of skills.
  • 3
       People who come from less educated families but who have greater skills have more opportunities for rising up the social ladder.
  • 4
       In Italy and Spain, the effect of social origin on the destination position is very marked. The least privileged have very few probabilities of rising up the social ladder, and those of privileged origin have few probabilities of descending.

Em todos os países, os filhos de pais com ensino superior são mais propensos a acabar em posições sociais mais elevadas do que aqueles cujos pais não têm este nível de formação. Contudo, existem diferenças importantes entre os países. Nos países nórdicos, no Canadá ou nos Países Baixos, esta vantagem é relativamente pequena. Em contrapartida, em países como Espanha ou Itália, a influência da família de origem na mobilidade social é muito mais acentuada, e as diferenças nas oportunidades de mobilidade, tanto dos filhos de pais com alto nível de formação e como dos filhos com baixo nível de formação, são muito grandes.

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