In most economies, parents would like to see their children have a higher standard of living, and with it a better life, than they had themselves. In Africa this unfortunately has not been the case for most. In this post which was first published on the World Bank’s Let’s Talk Development blog, and can be viewed here: In which countries do children have the best chances to surpass their parent’s education? – Roy van der Weide and Ambar Narayan look at upward mobility around the world.
In most economies, parents would like to see their children have a higher standard of living, and with it a better life, than they had themselves. When children are asked, they too tend to consider their parents a natural benchmark to compare their economic progress against (Goldthorpe, 1987; Hoschschild, 2016, Chetty at al., 2017). A simple measure that captures this notion of progress is the percentage of children who managed to surpass their parents, which we will refer to as absolute mobility. Chetty et al. (2017) find that the United States did exceptionally well by this measure for the generations born in the 1940s and 50s, when over 90 percent of children managed to do better than their parents in terms of income. Absolute mobility in the United States has since faded to around 50 percent for the current generation. How has absolute mobility fared elsewhere in the world? In which economies do children have the best chances to improve upon their parents? Are the highest rates of absolute mobility observed in economies that are starting from a low base?
These are among the questions explored in our new global study, Fair Progress? Economic Mobility across Generations around the World, using the newly developed Global Database on Intergenerational Mobility (GDIM). GDIM provides estimates of intergenerational mobility – absolute and relative – for 148 economies representing around 96 percent of the world’s population born in the 1980s, who are the youngest generation of adults to have completed their education. For 111 economies, or 87 percent of the world’s population, estimates of mobility span five decades: from those born in the 1940s to those born in the 1980s. We focus primarily on mobility in education, since human capital is a key aspect of economic well-being and educational mobility has a strong association with income mobility. And crucially, intergenerational data on education is much more widely available than that on income. For absolute mobility, our primary measure is the share of individuals in a generation who have higher educational attainment than their most educated parent (see report). This is a measure of mobility in educational qualifications rather than skills, since it does not consider the quality of education received by individuals.
The global picture on absolute mobility in education is thus sobering, particularly for the developing world, as it has stopped rising at a much lower level of overall education attainment than in high-income economies. Behind the story of the averages are however causes for optimism. Rapid improvements from the ‘50s to the ‘80s generations occurred in the developing regions that are primarily middle-income – East Asia and Pacific, Latin America and Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa – to the extent that they match or surpass high-income economies in absolute mobility among the ‘80s generation. And even in Sub-Saharan Africa, rapidly rising enrollments for children born after the 1980s suggest that absolute mobility may be on the rise. These findings, along with other highlights from our global study – on topics such as relative mobility in education and income, multi-generational mobility, and the drivers of mobility – will be featured in future blog articles.