Intergenerational Educational Mobility

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released "Education At A Glance 2014: OECD Indicators," a comprehensive report of annual data on the structure, finances, and performance of education systems in the OECD's 34 member countries, as well as a number of partner countries.  The report covers a wide range of topics, from educational attainment and resources invested in education, to access to education and characteristics of education systems.

One of the topics examined in the report is intergenerational educational mobility.  In other words: to what extent does parental education influence participation in tertiary education?  Education is linked to earnings, employment, and the overall wealth and well-being of individuals.  It promotes social mobility and a country's future growth, and it has the potential to reduce, but also reproduce, inequality in societies.

Mobility can be measured in absolute or relative terms.  Absolute mobility refers to the "proportion of individuals whose level of education is different (lower or higher) from that of their parents."  By contrast, relative mobility "considers the magnitude of difference in the chance of attaining a given level of education rather than another among people whose parents have different levels of education.  This indicator provides information about the advantages and disadvantages associated with having parents with different levels of educational attainment."

The data show that, across the OECD countries:

  • On average, 12 percent of non-student adults (age 25-64) have lower educational attainment than their parents, about half have the same educational attainment as their parents, and 40 percent have a higher level of educational attainment than their parents.
  • Intergenerational educational mobility is highest in Finland, Belgium, Korea and the Russian Federation, where 55 percent of non-student adults have a higher level of education than their parents.  In all countries, upward mobility is considerably more common than downward mobility.
  • More than 30 percent of non-student adults whose parents have not attained upper secondary education also ended their schooling before completing upper secondary education.  However, over 45 percent have an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education and about 20 percent have a tertiary education.
  • Parents' education seems to have an effect on individuals' literacy and numeracy proficiency.  25 percent of adults whose parents have below upper secondary education perform at or below Level 1 in literacy, the lowest level in the Survey of Adult Skills.  Only five percent perform at Level 4 or 5, compared to 20 percent of those whose parents have a tertiary education.
  • Absolute upward mobility rates are similar for men (38 percent) and women (40 percent) overall, except in Austria, Germany, Korea, and the Netherlands, where men are considerably more upwardly mobile in educational attainment than women.

Read more: resources:
Economics of Education (
Without a High-School Education (
Men's real hourly wage by education, 1973-2007 (
Do Blacks Earn Less than Whites and Why? (
Women's Education (
Education and Earnings: Does Education Pay? (
Education in America (
Exploring Education Attainment of U.S. Native-born and Foreign-born (
The Value of College (
Frederique Laubepin

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