Where Is Educational Mobility the Highest?

As regular readers know by now, social mobility in the US is largely a myth perpetuated for political legitimation.

In reality, we live in a self-perpetuating class system where the children of the rich mostly go on to rule over the children of the poor. This is evident in the education trends (above), but also in the income trends:

It may seem futile to fight this sort of class entrenchment. And to some degree it is. Rich parents often limit the opportunities of poor children, and many of our institutions, educational institutions in particular, are designed similarly.

But evidence from other countries suggests it doesn't have to be quite so bad. Miles Corak has shown, for instance, that intergenerational transmission of economic rank varies considerably across countries, with the Nordics dominating the indicator as usual:

Following Corak's lead, I wanted to see how much educational mobility in particular varies across countries. To be more specific, I wanted to see how much more likely children of highly educated parents are to attend college than children of lowly educated parents. Using OECD education indicator data, I came up with the following:

These figures are simply derived. You just take the odds of being a student in college for children with parents of high education and divide it by the odds of being a student in college for children with parents of low education.

As with economic mobility, educational mobility varies significantly across countries. The most successful countries include some of the obvious contenders (three of the top four use Nordic institutions) and some less obvious contenders (United Kingdom and Ireland). The country with the highest educational mobility, as defined here, is Iceland where the children of the highly educated are 1.8 times more likely to attend college than the children of the lowly educated. The OECD average for that figure stands at 4.3x and the figure is 5.4x in the US.

So it's clearly possible not to use education to retrench class. The question is whether we want to actually do what it takes to make that happen.

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