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Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantages in EU Member States

This Policy Brief reports on our research for EU member countries on the transmission of advantages and disadvantages between generations.

This comparative study has become possible because the 2005 EU-SILC has included one special data module, including the data for attributes of each respondent’s parents during his/her childhood period at the age 14-16.

The central tenet behind such a study is that the disadvantages faced by parents adversely affect their children’s chances of success, and whether public policies could possibly ameliorate such effects.

Results for almost all countries highlight the fact that there is a clear link between the educational disadvantage of the respondent and that of his/her father. In general, the disadvantage link with father’s education is generally stronger for females than for males. The intergenerational transmission of disadvantage is also observed to be stronger for younger age cohorts than for older age cohorts. In most countries the intergenerational effect is higher in relation to father’s education than in relation to mother’s education (Ireland, Latvia and the Netherlands being the only exceptions). With respect to the linkage with the occupational status of fathers, we also find a clear evidence of occupational rigidity (i.e. all those whose father had an elementary occupational status are more likely to belong to the group with elementary occupational outcomes).

These results point to a lack of abilities (or, possibly, opportunities) for people to experience upward occupational mobility. Understandably, these effects are transmitted via a complex set of processes, either through family genes (e.g. hereditary ability), family fortunes (e.g. access to wealth and assets), or through the childhood environment generated by the behaviour and attitudes of parents. The policy interventions to improve outcomes during childhood can be identified as most relevant.

In recent years, interventions to remove childhood poverty have become an important policy priority in many EU countries, and this will be an effective route through which the issue intergenerational disadvantages can be tackled. One popular policy is to help parents find work, instead of relying solely on cash transfers, and this will contribute to change attitudes away from benefit dependency. It can be expected that such policies will reduce the stress and anxiety of children, and it will have a pay-off in a better socio-economic status they subsequently command.

Annette Hexelschneider | alfa
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