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Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 December 2015

Florencia Torche
New York University [].
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Intergenerational mobility—the association between parents’ and adult children’s economic wellbeing—is an important sociological concept because it provides information about inequality of opportunity in society, and it has gained relevance in the recent past due to the increase economic inequality in most of the affluent world. This article provides an overview of the different measures of mobility used by sociologists and economists, as well as main empirical findings about mobility. I then move to topics that push mobility analysis beyond its bivariate focus: The association between intergenerational mobility and economic inequality, the mechanisms for mobility, and the validity of mobility as a measure of inequality of opportunity. I suggest that the association between mobility and inequality is likely spurious, driven by varying institutional arrangements across countries, and that mobility analysis is most useful when focused on describing the bivariate intergenerational association across countries and over time.


La mobilité intergénérationnelle – l’association entre le bien-être économique des parents et celui de leurs enfants devenus adultes – est un concept sociologique important dans la mesure où il fournit une information sur l’inégalité des chances en société. Il fait depuis peu l’objet d’une attention croissante en raison de l’augmentation des inégalités économiques dans le monde riche. Cet article présente les différentes mesures de mobilité utilisées par les sociologues et les économistes, ainsi que leurs principaux résultats de recherche. J’en viens ensuite à des sujets qui poussent l’étude de mobilité au delà de son approche bivariée traditionnelle : l’association entre la mobilité intergénérationnelle et l’inégalité économique, les mécanismes de mobilité, et la validité de la mobilité comme mesure de l’inégalité des chances. Je suggère dans cet article que l’association entre mobilité et inégalité est probablement fallacieuse, influencée par des arrangements institutionnels variables d’un pays à un autre, et que l’analyse de mobilité est la plus utile lorsqu’elle se concentre sur la description de l’association intergénérationnelle bivariée entre les pays et dans le temps.


Die Generationenmobilität – eine Verbindung aus wirtschaftlichem Wohlergehen der Eltern und jener der erwachsenen Kinder – ist ein wichtiges soziologisches Konzept, das über die gesellschaftliche Chancenungleichheit informiert. Aufgrund der zunehmenden wirtschaftlichen Ungleichheiten in reichen Ländern steigt das Interesse für dieses Konzept. Dieser Beitrag stellt die verschiedenen Mobilitätsmaßnahmen vor, die von Soziologen und Wirtschaftswissenschaftlern benutzt werden, sowie deren wichtigsten Forschungsergebnisse. In der Folge werde ich Mobilitätsstudien vorstellen, die über ihren ursprünglichen bivariaten Ansatz hinausgehen: die Verbindung aus Generationsmobilität und wirtschaftlicher Ungleichheit, Mobilitätsmechanismen und Bedeutung der Mobilität als Maßeinheit für Chancenungleichheit. Ich behaupte, dass es sich wahrscheinlich um eine Scheinverbindung zwischen Mobilität und Ungleichheit handelt, beeinflusst durch institutionelle Vereinbarungen, die von Land zu Land unterschiedlich sind, und dass die Mobilitätsanalyse am besten greift, wenn sie auf die sowohl länder- als auch zeitübergreifende Beschreibung der intergenerationellen, bivariaten Verbindung ausgerichtet ist.

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Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity
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Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity
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