This paper finds that when trying to better understand how individuals achieve a social position, it is key to consider not just where they start and finish, but how their lives unfold and change over time.
The research makes use of rich Finnish register data to compare the education, work and earnings between the ages of 17-35 of 21,744 Finnish siblings.
There was a strong similarity in the early socioeconomic paths particularly of same-sex siblings, more so for brothers than sisters. Similarities were strongest among the least ad-vantaged (where it involved long periods of unemployment) and among the most advantaged. The researchers interpret this as a reinforcement of social inequality through a concentration of more successful or less successful lives among the most and least advantaged young adults.
The research concludes that concentrating on final outcomes when measuring social mobility risks underestimating the association between background and destination. A life course perspective is necessary because inequalities are formed across people’s lives, not just at the end of a specific life phase. Treating destination as a process rather than a single point can help generate new and clearer insights into how processes of attainment in our lives unfold over time.
It’s worth noting that the research focused on Finland, a relatively egalitarian welfare State in which the impact of social origin or family background is weak compared to that in other countries such as Germany and the US.