Fairness and Intergenerational Mobility in Denmark

  • Munk, Martin D. (Project Participant)
  • Harding, David (Project Participant)
  • Holm, Anders (Project Participant)
  • Elwert, Felix (Other)

    Project Details


    1. Importance, scientific originality and societal perspectives.
    Intergenerational mobility is one of a society’s measures of fairness or justice. In studies of justice there is a focus on equal access to advantage as Cohen (2011) terms it, or ‘fair equality of opportunity’ as Rawls (1999) describes it. Social scientists are much concerned by the extent to which an individual’s life chances are determined by who their parents were. Such concerns are fully justified since a high degree of dependence on parent attributes is a major barrier to providing more equality of opportunity for the children of these parents. As Mare (2011: 5) eloquently notes ‘High mobility lessens the sting of being at the wrong end of inequality if the life chances of one’s offspring are only loosely tied to one’s own’. The importance of this issue is reflected in a long and distinguished tradition of research starting with Blau and Duncan and (1967), Featherman and Hauser (1978), and Erikson and Goldthorpe (1992) in sociology and Atkinson et al. (1983), Cameron and Heckman (1998), Lee and Solon (2009), Machin (2009), Ermisch and Pronzato (2011), Blanden et al. (2011) in economics. Recent trends in European educational stratification and mobility are examined by Shavit et al. (2007), Breen et al. (2009), and Rudolphi (2011) for the Swedish case. These studies report some change in educational mobility for some of the countries considered. On the other hand Wiborg and Hansen (2009) did not find a decline in the importance of family background for selected European countries. A summary of studies is found in papers published in Smeeding et al. (2011).
    For Denmark there is some research in this area, Hansen (1995), McIntosh and Munk (2007, 2012), and Jaeger (2011) but there are no recent broad studies of intergenerational mobility concerning later outcomes in education, occupation and income for Denmark, reflecting that educational mobility increased at the upper secondary educational level from 1985 to 2005. This is a serious gap in our knowledge of the links between the socioeconomic positions, rewards, and status of one generation and those of the next and much more research needs to be done before we can determine how successful society, and in particular the educational system, has been in reducing the transmission of economic, educational and social inequality from one generation to the next.
    There are also new issues to be examined. Gender has become an important concern. There are two dimensions to this: the role of women both as heads of family and their participation in the labour force has dramatically changed and there is now an extremely serious problem involving how lower- income boys perform in secondary school. These are major policy issues and they are intimately connected with intergenerational transmission mechanisms since success in the labour market and in school have so far been found to be highly correlated with parental background variables.
    It is now apparent that regional or commune differences are an integral component of inequality and stratification. In some areas in Denmark only half of the children are completing upper secondary education whereas in other areas eighty or ninety percent will do so. Generally, intergenerational mobility studies, by focusing on the traditional family background variables have failed to include variables which can pick up this new source of variation in performance. This is also the case in Denmark.
    Family structures have also changed. More families experience divorce, children experience new family environments often with single parents, age at first marriage or common-law union and age at first birth have increased, there are fewer siblings, and schooling and pre-schooling arrangements are now quite different than they were a generation ago (Mare 2011; Wodtke, Harding, and Elwert 2011). These changes in the family require a revised research methodology and new types of data to keep pace with them.
    The project described below is designed to explore a number of questions involving the functioning of the Danish society that so far have not adequately been examined. How fair is access to the present educational system? Who benefits most from public education? Have the credentials that the educational system provides retained their value? Has educational mobility at lower levels led to real social mobility? What type of future do adolescent males from economically disadvantaged families have? How important is the regional or spatial dimension of inequality? Getting good answers to these questions is our objective. We think our results will be extremely important in guiding future social and educational policy as well as being of great interest to the general public.

    2. Problem and research topics.
    This purpose of this project is to address this important but neglected issue. It has three objectives. The first is to examine the determinants of completed tertiary educational attainments and how these have changed for the Danish population as a whole using the most recent register data sets that are available from Statistics Denmark. Two data sets will be analyzed. One involves a comparison of two cohorts, one born in 1962 and the other born in 1982 and extends our earlier work on the analysis of secondary educational attainments to tertiary attainments. The second data set covers Danes in 2012. Respondents aged 30-44 will be compared with the set of respondents aged 45-59. The analysis of both data sets will focus on which variables determine respondent success in the educational system and how this has changed across generations.
    The second objective is to examine the value of the changes in intergenerational educational mobility over this period. Having a tertiary educational system which is more accessible to respondents from less advantaged backgrounds is a worthy objective in its own right but its value will be much increased if it is matched by a similar increase in income or occupational mobility or attainment. The first part of the project looks at how the dependence of completed educational attainments on family background variables changes across generations. The second examines whether the value of educational qualifications has changed across the two cohorts as a consequence of higher participation rates of respondents from less advantaged sections of society. This will be done by comparing the size of the coefficients of the education variables in earnings and those which explain an occupational index. These coefficients measure the contribution of a particular educational category to the individual’s earnings or occupational quality as measured by the index.
    The third objective is to examine how successful boys and girls from lower income groups are in getting access to tertiary education. Participation in Danish tertiary educational system has expanded dramatically over the period 1985-2005. Enrolment rates in universities, for example, have doubled for males and tripled for females in this twenty year period. T
    Effective start/end date01/10/201231/10/2018