What influences people’s social position most: their family background or their skills?
1The relative influence of family background and skills – cognitive and non-cognitive – on social mobility is analysed across 21 advanced democracies.
2In general, the children of people with higher education levels have greater probabilities than others of attaining a better social position. Furthermore, they are better protected against descending to the working class, even if they have a relatively low level of skills.
3People who come from less educated families but who have greater skills have more opportunities for rising up the social ladder.
4In Italy and Spain, the effect of social origin on the destination position is very marked. The least privileged have very few probabilities of rising up the social ladder, and those of privileged origin have few probabilities of descending.
In all countries, the children of parents with higher education have more possibilities of ending up in high social positions than those whose parents do not have that level of education. However, important differences exist between countries. In the Nordic countries, Canada and the Netherlands, the advantage is relatively slim. In contrast, in countries such as Spain and Italy, the influence of family background on social mobility is much more marked, and differences in the probabilities for mobility of children of parents with a high and a low level of education are very large.