Intergenerational mobility, intergenerational effects, sibling correlations, and equality of opportunity: a comparison of four approaches

Authors: Anders Björklund Markus Jäntti
Issue: 17 2019
Themes:
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This working paper is also available in Swedish: Björklund, Anders och Markus Jäntti (2020), ”Hur viktig är familjebakgrunden för ekonomiska utfall? En jämförelse av fyra ansatser”, Ekonomisk Debatt årg 48:4, p.36-44.

This paper compares four different ways of researching how family background affects our educational attainment and earnings: looking at intergenerational mobility; looking at how interventions with parents can affect offspring – the ‘intergenerational effects’ approach – looking at what share of inequality is shared by siblings – ‘sibling correlations’ – and looking for factors which affect outcome but which are outside children’s control – the ‘equality of opportunity’ approach.

The authors use Swedish registry data to compare the approaches and find that all are valuable:
• The study of intergenerational mobility in education or income can provide an easy-to-understand picture of how inequality is transmitted from one generation to the next.
• Intergenerational effects studies can show how equality of opportunity may change in response to policy interventions such as educational reform.
• Sibling studies show that family and community background can have much more influence than that revealed by intergenerational-mobility research.
• The equality of opportunity approach allows for alternative measures that evaluate inequality through the lens of different value judgements.

The paper argues all four approaches have merit. By comparing results from all these different types of research, scholars may be able to paint a more nuanced picture of the role of family background.