Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

News 29/10/2018

OECD publishes a new report on social mobility

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report in June 2018 on the recent progress of social mobility in OECD and emerging countries, as part of the Inclusive Growth Initiative. This report presents new evidence which shows that social mobility between generations and within individuals’ lifetimes has stalled in recent years.

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Sticky ceilings and floors

The report A Broken Social Elevator? How to Promote Social Mobility reports how high social inequality and low social mobility can negatively affect a country’s productivity, efficiency and economic growth as well as the life satisfaction, well-being and social cohesion of its population.

The report draws upon an in-depth literature review and analysis of international and national data from OECD countries spanning the mid-1980s to 2018.

The report includes several findings demonstrating how early social inequality can affect children over the course of their lifetime. Only one in ten children of parents who have not progressed past lower secondary education continues to tertiary education themselves, compared to two thirds of children with parents who did complete tertiary education.

Parental earnings account for an average of 38% of their children’s future earnings across the OECD countries, and as much as 70% in some countries. Children’s future occupations are also heavily influenced by their parents’ own jobs; a third of children of manual workers became manual workers and a quarter became managers. In comparison, half of children of managers also had managerial roles as adults and approximately one in ten became manual workers.

Together, the OECD note that this so-called ‘sticky floor’ and ‘sticky ceiling’ can limit social mobility both upwards and downwards, between generations and within individuals’ lifetimes. On average at current rates, it would take 150 years (or four to five generations) for children born to parents in the bottom earnings percentile to move up to the average earnings percentile. In France, as the report notes, this would take as many as six generations.

The OECD therefore makes a number of recommendations for governments to ensure that equal opportunities are available to all children, regardless of their parents’ level of education, occupation or socio-economic status. Specific recommendations include:

  • enabling universal access to high quality early years education and care
  • public investment in health, particularly targeting those from more disadvantaged backgrounds
  • policies which promote family life and support parents in the job market and
  • policies to reduce regional divides. 

Making policy to improve social mobility  

This report was released as part of the OECD’s Inclusive Growth Initiative which also provides a database of policy tools designed to address social inequalities.

The report aligns with wider initiatives in Europe which aim to enable social mobility. This includes a recent study by the French government agency France Stratégie which explains how – and how much – this ‘sticky floor’ impacts living standards; for example, a child whose parents are in managerial positions is 20 times more likely than others to belong to the wealthiest 1% of the population.

Based on national statistics recently made available, this study highlights the magnitude of the phenomenon in France and concludes that educational inequalities among children drive a later disparity in living standards.

The European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) has also released several policy briefs exploring the impact of various family policies and early years care on children’s later outcomes. EPIC also collects and disseminates examples of evidence-based practices being used by governments, municipalities and private organisations that have demonstrated a promising or positive impact on children and families in EU Member States.


This news item was written for the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC)

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