Intergenerational worklessness in an international context: the role of labour markets, welfare systems and education

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Social Science

Abstract

Intergenerational worklessness, the association in workless spells across generations, is a new and important topic of increasing interest in academia, political circles and the public domain. The research fits well with one of the ESRCs main strategic priorities under the heading of 'A Fair and Vibrant Society', specifically asking 'How mobile is our society?'. Intergenerational worklessness captures a particularly severe type of deprivation that is passed across generations. By providing the first evidence for a wide range of countries, this proposal will enable us to measure how much of a problem a lack of mobility for those stuck at the bottom of the labour market is in an international context.

The first strand of this project will present the first international comparison of intergenerational worklessness across Europe, the USA, Australia and Canada. The work will have a particular focus on labour market entrants in the second generation to assess whether intergenerational factors might be driving the recent surge in youth unemployment rates. The second strand of this research will build on this, considering the role of local labour markets, welfare systems and education systems in the transmission of workless spells. More specifically it will aim to:
1) Ask whether intergenerational associations arise because some countries have more work (lower unemployment) than other countries or whether there is an additional penalty of living in a country with no work and having a workless father.
2) Assess whether there is any association between countries with more generous welfare systems for labour market entrants and high persistence in workless spells across generations.
3) Examine how education systems prepare young people for employment across countries and how this is associated with patterns in intergenerational worklessness.
The project will aim to deal with the obvious methodological challenges faced in identifying the effect of these factors on intergenerational worklessness by exploiting variation across countries and time where possible.

Along with producing new and valuable research, I will use this grant to learn a variety of new skills that will enable me to become a research leader. I will build on my existing international networks with planned trips to Harvard University, the University of Melbourne and the Swedish Institute of Social Research, all supported by international experts based at these institutions. I will expand my knowledge of methodologies and welfare and education systems beyond my current UK focus, attending training courses and learning from my new networks. I will also gain management skills by leading a grant for the first time, managing a budget and managing a junior researcher. Finally, I will improve on my communication skills by working with the communications team in my department to create maximum exposure for my work.

I have a proven record in writing high-impact research and will use this experience and contacts to ensure this new work is widely disseminated. I believe that the topical nature of the research will make this of interest to a wide range of audiences, including academics, policy makers and practitioners. I will aim to publish this research in leading peer-reviewed academic journals such as the Journal of European Social Policy, Demography and the Journal of European Economic Association and present my work at a number of international conferences including the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, the Annual European Network for Social Policy Analysis (ESPAnet) conference and the European Association of Labour Economists Conference. I will also organise an international conference at the end of the grant bringing together leading academics in the field of life chances and youth unemployment, policy makers and users from non-government agencies.

Planned Impact

Intergenerational worklessness is a topic of increased interest both within academic circles but also in the public sector, the third sector and in the public domain. This is evidenced by frequent references made to the topic by politicians and newspaper editorials on the subject. This proposal aims to provide the first evidence on how large a problem intergenerational worklessness is in the UK by presenting the new findings in a comparative perspective. By focusing on labour market entrants, it will provide evidence on whether intergenerational factors are associated with youth unemployment for the first time. It will also seek to explore the association between this relationship and labour markets, welfare and education systems which will substantially improve our understanding of potential drivers of the association in workless spells across generations. While recognising the methodological challenges of making causal statements, the proposal aims to use advanced quantitative methods to exploit variation across countries and time to improve our understanding on these issues.

This substantial contribution to the current literature will be of interest to politicians, government departments and third sector organisations with an interest in the subject area. This includes the Cabinet Office, the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, the Sutton Trust, the Russell Sage Foundation, Tomorrow's People and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Given the focus on labour market entrants and the current youth unemployment crisis in Europe, I expect this research to have wider impact beyond the UK from the European Union as they attempt to deal with rising youth unemployment rates. I will use my networks and proposed collaborations in the USA and Australia to attempt to expand the impact within these countries.

I also anticipate this work to be of interest to the general public including parents and young people who are entering into the labour market at an uncertain time. Previous experience of writing in this area has indicated that there is a concern in the public domain about the way that intergenerational worklessness is sometimes discussed by politicians without the required empirical evidence to support their claims (see http://inequalitiesblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/justifying-never-working-families/). This new research would seek to clarify the facts from a wide range of data sources, building an increasing evidence base to ensure that the public is properly informed on the issue.

It is therefore anticipated that this Future Research Leaders proposal will be of interest to a number of key stakeholders. I am well placed to deliver to a wide range of potential beneficiaries as I have a proven track record in engaging with politicians, Government departments, third sector organisations and the wider public through previous ESRC Festival of Social Science events. Alongside the expected high-ranking journal publications, this work will be disseminated in accessible ways through working papers with executive summaries, interest articles and blogs. I aim to host an event as part of the Festival of Social Sciences, engaging local schools, university students and members of the public alongside public and third sector workers. I will regularly engage with the media, working with the communications team in my department to ensure a press release is made for each working paper release. I will also ensure that the end of grant conference is accompanied by a larger press release, detailing the findings across the entire project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The key findings from this grant directly meet the first objective of the grant: To produce a new body of research on intergenerational joblessness that will advance our understanding of the topic, in particular through international comparisons.

The first research paper from this grant has used two harmonised cross-national data sources to consider the association between children experiencing jobless households and three medium- and long-term outcomes for the first time: education, adult worklessness and adult poverty. The research presents new evidence that there are long scars to experiencing a jobless household, and to the extent that this reflects childhood disadvantage, the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage in a particular set of countries. But this adverse set of outcomes is not universal. A smaller set of countries shows little or no issue with persistence in disadvantage across generations or evidence in just one domain (education in Denmark's case). Typically, countries with higher proportions of children in jobless households have worse medium- and longer-term outcomes for those children. This suggests that this is a powerful measure of social exclusion. Countries with a high proportion of children in jobless households are also worse at protecting those children from becoming the next generation of jobless households.

The second research paper considers the mechanisms that might be driving differences in intergenerational joblessness across countries. Recent studies of intergenerational income mobility have used cross-area and cross-national variation in intergenerational elasticities to explore possible drivers of persistence in incomes across generations. We contribute to this literature, and the parallel literature on the effects of social exclusion, utilising a conceptual framework to explore the role of family factors (education and welfare generosity) and labour market factors in accounting for intergenerational joblessness across Europe. We show that simple explanations, such as high unemployment and low education alone do not account for individual-level variation in intergenerational joblessness across countries. Instead, a combination of experiencing a jobless household in childhood, low education and weak labour markets creates additional penalties. Country-level differences also suggest that lower expenditure on education and less generous welfare systems are also associated with more intergenerational persistence in jobless spells across countries. Taken together, the individual- and country- level analysis point to multiple disadvantage creates persistence of deprivation across generations, suggesting that a combined policy approach is required to reduce such associations.

The second objective of the grant, to build on a number of key areas of skill development, was met through a) the building of international networks, including visits to Harvard University, University of Melbourne, and Institute for Employment in Nuremberg, as part of the grant, and b) the experience of being a PI, through managing a budget and the hiring and line management of a junior researcher, and c) through improving my communications skills by international travel, and the hosting of a full day launch conference, attended by a number of policy makers and academics.

The third objective, to promote new research through existing knowledge exchange networks, and the enhancements of these connections, was met through a number of new collaborations that have taken place as a result of this grant funding. As a result of this, I was promoted to Full Professor two months after the grant ended.
Exploitation Route The first study presents one of the first pieces of research to consider the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage with internationally comparable data. In doing so, it present comparable estimates of intergenerational workelssness across countries for the first time, along with comparable associations between workless experiences in childhood, education and adult poverty. The second study explores why intergenerational joblessness might vary across countries, including exploring the role of labour markets, education and welfare systems. We find evidence that a combination of coming from a jobless household, achieving less than tertiary education, and experiencing high unemployment in the labour market contribute to a high risk of joblessness in adulthood. Those who come from a jobless household who either achieve tertiary education or good labour markets in adulthood have the same chance of being jobless as those from working households in childhood. This highlights two key mechanisms for protecting those from jobless households from repeating the experience in adulthood. Policy makers and stakeholders interested in reducing intergenerational persistence in jobless experiences should acknowledge the importance of both strong labour markets and achieving higher levels of education as protective factors to ensure that children from jobless households are not at additional risk to jobless experiences themselves as adults. In addition, there is suggestive evidence that countries with more generous welfare systems, and those that spend a greater proportion of their GDP on education, have lower intergenerational jobless associations. These findings will be of interest to Government departments and third sector organisations interested in the reproduction of disadvantage across generations, and other academics interested in intergenerational mobility and life chances.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description This research has been picked up by policy makers in a number of different ways. I have presented the work to three different policy audiences this year. First, I was asked to be a respondent at a RES Foundation event, launching the OECD report on social mobility. This audience included policy makers from DWP, DfE and HMT. Second, I was invited to give a talk on social mobility to the DfE Strategy Unit away day, where I presented findings from this project. Third, I was invited to give a talk to the DfE Delivery Unit away day. In each of these presentations I was able to present findings on intergenerational joblessness in an international context and explain some of the key findings. My research on intergenerational worklessness in the UK has also been cited in two Social Mobility Commission reports, which are widely read in policy audiences and beyond. At the end of the award in May 2019, I hosted a conference in Westminster, showcasing the findings from the grant, along with presentations from a number of colleagues on inequalities of opportunities across the life course. This conference was attended by 150 people, from a number of different areas including the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions, Education Endowment Fund, Sutton Trust, Social Mobility Commission, Brilliant Club, Behavioral Insights Team. The feedback from the conference was that this was important policy-relevant work that highlighted some of the key issues we face in terms of unequal opportunties.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Citation in Social Mobility Commission policy report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/5969...
 
Description Citation in report on adult skills gap from the Social Mobility Commission
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/7740...
 
Description Expert advisor to DWP Green Paper on Social Justice
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Expert steering group - DWP Green paper on intergenerational worklessness 
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 The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, made social justice a key priority of her new Government. To support this agenda, DWP are conducting a new analytical programme of work resulting in a Green Paper - focusing on better understand the challenges faced by the most disadvantaged children and families. In particular, they are interested in building a comprehensive picture of the changes in demographics and the evidence about risk factors across each phase of a child's life up to 24/25 and what interventions can best help support them. This research will be published as a Green Paper and help to steer related policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Hosted end of grant conference at Central Hall Westminster 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact In May 2019 I hosted an end of award conference at Central Hall Westminster, to showcase the findings of this work, along with other related collaborations and wider studies on inequalities in opportunities across the life course. The event had 150 sign ups and a waiting list, due to the popularity of the line up of speakers including Social Mobility Commissioner, Sam Friedman, Professor Steve Machin, Professor Sandra McNally, and Professor Anna Vignoles. The audience included policy makers, third sector organisations, post-graduate students, other academics, and general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Participation in DWP Research Priorities workshop at UCL 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I attended a one-day workshop set up between UCL and Department for Work and Pensions. At this workshop we were given the opportunity to interact with research analysts from DWP to listen to their key research priorities and to describe our research to them. The analysts were particularly interested in the new research into intergenerational joblessness in an international context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at Melbourne Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presented work on intergenerational worklessness in the UK and preliminary findings from the analysis of cross-national comparisons on intergenerational worklessness to academic colleagues at the Melbourne Institute.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at School for Social and Political Studies, University of Melbourne 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presenting work on intergenerational transfers to colleagues in the School of Social and Political Sciences. Interesting questions regarding context and comparisons with the Australian setting which will help inform further research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to DfE Delivery Unit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to give a talk on social mobility to the DfE Delivery Unit away day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation to DfE Strategy Unit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation on research into social mobility in the UK to the DfE Strategy Unit away day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation to policy makers, OECD and RES Foundation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to respond to the launch of the OECD's report on social mobility, at an event hosted by the RES foundation. In this response, I was given an opportunity to show how the report linked to findings from the UK, including my work on intergenerational joblessness in an international context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/events/from-treadmills-to-stairwells-social-mobility-across-adv...
 
Description Press release for first research paper used in national news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release was issued as my first research paper was released online. The findings of the paper were then reported in a national newspaper, the Independent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://inews.co.uk/uncategorized/poverty-affects-uk-education-standards-europe/
 
Description Public Policy Institute for Wales 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Consulting with the PPIW on the evidence base surrounding intergenerational worklessness and any known policy initiatives in the area. Writing an expert blog for their website to be released at the same time as their new report on the issue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ppiw.org.uk/intergenerational-worklessness-what-we-do-and-dont-know/
 
Description Visit to Harvard Univeristy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I spent two weeks visiting Professor Bruce Western and the Faculty of Sociology at Harvard University in June 2016. I was able to meet with Professor Western and collaborate on a research project concerning the role of family employment and family structure on income volatility in the US and Britain. I was also able to meet Professor William Julian Wilson and discuss with him the first findings from my Future Research Leaders grant, comparing intergenerational worklessness across Europe. He offered many insights into the US context and spoke of future collaborations and funding potential as part of a new research centre that he is building at Harvard.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016