Lifetime Economic Mobility:Understanding mobility within and across generations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences

Abstract

Intergenerational socio-economic mobility has re-emerged as one of the key issues in academic, media and political discourse over the last decade, following from academic research, including contributions from the applicants, that showed how mobility had declined in the UK. Despite this rise in prominence, research into intergenerational mobility is still, in many ways, in its infancy. This proposal aims to add three major new outputs to this evidence base, bringing in a new methodology emerging from a related field.

The first part of the proposal directly asks the question of 'How mobile is our society?' addressing concerns about the accurate measurement of intergenerational mobility in the face of data limitations. When measuring mobility across generations we would ideally capture life-time mobility, observing the older generation across their offspring's entire childhood and the younger generation across their entire adult lives. These demanding requirements mean that ideal data are not fully available in the UK and estimates of mobility are based on measures at points in time. Such point in time estimates will differ from a life-time picture in three important ways. Previous literature has identified two of these issues: measurement error and life-cycle bias. These issues have been given limited attention to date in the UK. An additional measurement problem, which has yet to be considered at all in the literature, stems from the fact that earnings is only measured when people are working. Therefore we only measure the mobility of the employed. If we are attempting to measure a person's life time earnings, periods of worklessness will be important and are likely to shift our understanding of patterns of mobility, as worklessness is more common among those from deprived backgrounds. This new work will therefore give, for the first time in the UK, a robust estimate of how mobile our society actually is. Given what we already know about the likely biases in the data, we expect to find that the UK is far less mobile than previously acknowledged.

The second research area addresses the limited advancements that have been made to date in understanding how other domains of intergenerational transmissions, such as education, class and worklessness, relate to intergenerational income mobility. We will introduce a new methodological approach, from the related field of earnings mobility, which adds a significant improvement in the assessment of how patterns of mobility are related across different dimensions of a person's origin. This technique also enables us to consider where in the distribution of family income in childhood that mobility across these domains actually occurs. This offers a step-advancement on what the current literature can offer in this area and brings together a number of separate domains into one framework.

Finally, we will bring together the two closely related literatures of mobility within and across generations for the first time to explore what appears to be contrasting findings. The intragenerational mobility literature has found evidence of increased earnings mobility as people age for a recent cohort of people. In contrast, the intergenerational mobility literature has documented how these people experienced less mobility in terms of their family background. We will use our methodological advancements from the second research project to consider both types of mobility in a consolidated framework, describing how these apparently contrasting findings can work together. This will be new and informative work for understanding how family background relates not only to later life outcomes but also to inequality and mobility later in life.

Given the current high political interest in this subject area, we believe that this research will not just be a substantive advance on the academic literature but will have a substantial wider impact in the media and in policy development.

Planned Impact

Intergenerational mobility has re-emerged as a key dimension of social policy research following new findings concerning intergenerational economic mobility over the last decade. This research has led to intergenerational mobility becoming the key goal of the UK government's social policy strategy. This project will achieve a step advance in our understanding of intergenerational economic mobility in the UK and will be of substantial benefit to policy makers in government as it seeks to improve equality of opportunity in Britain. We therefore would expect the work to be of significant interest to the newly established Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. We would also anticipate communicating our findings to officials at the DWP, Treasury and Cabinet Office and with contacts in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister who has a strong interest in this area. The findings would also be of considerable interest to non-government organizations such as the Sutton Trust, the Social Mobility Foundation and the Intergenerational Foundation.

We will stage a major conference toward the end of the project to address a broad audience. This will be in London and we will seek to invite other major researchers on family structure, poverty and children's life chances from the UK and abroad. This will provide a key opportunity both for influencing policy makers and getting the research out into the public domain. Attendance will be drawn from the Commission, Cabinet Office, government departments and a range on non-government organisations with interests in mobility and the impact of poverty on life chances. This will include the Sutton Trust, Child Poverty Action Group and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Social Policy at Bath and the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol (where Gregg and Macmillan are associates) have outstanding reputations for high quality research, dissemination and for fostering wider impact. Recognition of the impact of research work at Bath on policy and practice is evidenced by its recent award of the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Award for Higher and Further Education. The award to Bath cited our ''Influential research into child poverty and support for vulnerable people'. This specifically includes our research on children and poverty. The University has recently received funding from RCUK under their Public Engagement with Research Catalysts call. We are in the process of establishing a new Public Engagement Unit, and one of the elements of our programme of work is specifically focused on 'public engagement with policy makers'. In addition the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has appointed a 'research ambassador' with the remit to promote suck links. This project will work closely with and benefit from these initiatives.

This project will exploit Gregg's extensive links to, and experience of working with, policy makers and practitioners to ensure impact (see also the pathways to impact and CVs attached). In addition, we will aim to exploit links made by Macmillan's placement as a Policy Analyst in the Cabinet Office Implementation Unit over the summer. Both have proven experience in engaging with different audiences, producing articles for the ESRCs 'Britain in....' series and 'Society Now' magazine. We will aim to contribute further articles to these publications and produce articles for CMPOs 'Research in Public Policy' bulletin which is sent to a wide-range of practitioners. A project website will be developed and maintained by our administrative appointment that will contain updates on findings, blog posts and podcasts on matters of wide interest.
 
Description Improving intergenerational mobility, or the more common term social mobility, has become a key policy objective of Government's social policy following evidence of the poor record the UK has in this regard. Yet the UK literature is still in its infancy. This project made three new contributions to the literature:

The first provided the first estimate of lifetime economic mobility for the UK. Previous estimates of intergenerational mobility were based on point in time measures of income and earnings that suffer from life cycle and attenuation bias. We dealt with both of these issues and, in a more novel approach, showed the importance of sample selection driven by spells out of work. Our best estimate of lifetime intergenerational economic persistence in the UK is 0.43 for children born in 1970. Whilst we argue that this is the best available estimate to date, we discuss why there is good reason to believe that this is still a lower bound, owing to residual attenuation bias. This places the UK as one of the worst performing developed countries for social mobility.

The second key advance considers the returns to parental income and education across the distribution of son's earnings for the first time in the UK. While studies of intergenerational income mobility have typically focused at on estimating persistence across generations on average, policy makers are particularly interested in the life chances of poor children or who gets access to high paying, high status jobs. We find a J-shaped relationship between parental income and sons' earnings, with parental income a particularly strong predictor of labour market success for those at the bottom, and to a greater extent, the top of the earnings distribution. We explore the potential role of early skills, education and early labour market attachment in this process. Worryingly, we find that education is not as meritocratic as we might hope, with the return to coming from a wealthy family dominating that of a high level of education at the top of the distribution of earnings. Early periods as NEET have long-lasting impacts on those at the bottom, alongside parental income.

The third contribution explores how attaining a university degree, as well as which university attended and degree subject, acts as meritocratic gateway into top professions and later labour market earnings. This paper draws together established and new evidence about the contribution that higher education can make to social mobility across the life course. While young people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to go to university than their richer peers, even amongst the selected group who do go to university, they are less likely to attend the highest status institutions, less likely to graduate and less likely to achieve the highest degree classes. These differences contribute to lower earnings of graduates from poorer families, but the earnings differentials go beyond these differences in degree achievement. Thus, while much of the policy emphasis to date has focused on widening access to university, our research highlights that the need to go well beyond the first day of university, to open access to top jobs for high educational achievers from less affluent families.

These findings fit fully with the objectives of the grant. We look at progress of individuals within generations in terms of the links between their education experiences, access to top professions and later labour market earnings, combining this with advancements in the literature on income mobility across generations. The first and third paper have revise and resubmits at high quality economics journals, the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics and the Oxford Review of Economic Policy. The second paper has been submitted to the Journal of Population Economics. Throughout the project, the findings have been transmitted to policy makers through engagement routes such as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility. We have also presented the findings to the Social Mobility Commission and at a number of other academic conferences.
Exploitation Route Fed into Commission on Social mobility and to key decision makers
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Research has contributed to development of government policy thinking around social mobility in the UK - research was fed into government via a number of channels such as Select committees and meetings with officials and Deputy Prime minister and other ministers. The Prime ministers conference speech highlighted his commitment to improving social mobility in the UK
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
 
Description member of Commission on Social miobility and Child Poverty
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
Impact Gregg is commissioner on Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty - research feeds into commission annual report and major conference aimed at policy makers. Policy influence is through commission wirth dialogue with government ministers often face to face
 
Description Blog post - Higher education, career opportunities, and intergenerational inequality 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Blog post on research around Higher Education, career opportunities, and intergenerational inequality
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://economicsofhe.org/2016/11/08/higher-education-career-opportunities-and-intergenerational-ine...
 
Description Evidencve to Select Committee on Social Mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Oral evidence to Select Committee on Social Mobility
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Intergenerational Mobility and social gradients in Children's Life Chances 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact confeerence attended by some senior policy makers and discussion was extensive

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/events/2013/socialmobility
 
Description Intergenerational mobility and educational inequality in the US, the UK and Sweden: A comparative study 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Plenary Presentation - RC28 Winter Conference, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

extendsive discussion with international academics after presentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Meeting with Dept of Education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting with Dept of Education to discuss research on non-cognitive traits and child attainment
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Moving Towards Estimating Life-time Intergenerational Mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact presentation international conference XXIX Conference of the Italian Association of Labor Economists (AIEL),
Pisa, September 11-12, 2014;


none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Moving Towards Estimating Life-time Intergenerational Mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact academic seminar and doscussion

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/case/_new/events/calendar/Month.asp?sdate=17-5-2014
 
Description Moving Towards Estimating Life-time Intergenerational Mobility - Dept of Economics weekly seminar, University of Bath 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited speaker at the Department of Economics weekly seminar, University

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Moving Towards Estimating Life-time Intergenerational Mobility seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact seminar given and discussion afterwards

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Presentation Conference on Intergenerational mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation by Lindsey MACMILLAN TO WORKSHOP AIMED AT POLICY MAKERS AND CHARITIES/THINK TANKS IN THE AREA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bath.ac.uk/casp/events/
 
Description Presentation All Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of Research on Life time intergenerational mobility to All Parliamentary group on social mobility. Plus Q&A with audience of MPs and charities and other researchers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Seminar Antwerp 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar presentation to Postgraduate students at University of Antwerp - 24 april 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015