Intergenerational Mobility in Latin America

 Intergenerational mobility refers to the relationship between an individual's socioeconomic status and the status of his/her parents.  Among other things, intergenerational mobility is determined by the amount of opportunity that is allowed.  For example, in a caste-based system, the opportunity to advance from peasant to nobility may be near nil.  One one hand, a society that offers huge amounts of opportunity is one in which children would gain little or no advantage from being born into a privileged family over a poor family.  By pure ambition and effort, anyone can achieve success unfettered by any consideration of pedigree, lineage, race, color or gender.  On the other hand, a society which offers few opportunities is one in which children have their futures virtually determined at birth.  Ambition and effort will amount to nothing, and most people will end up doing the same thing as their parents as well as having similar standards of living.

We will now look at some survey data from the 2003 TGI Latina study.  This is a survey of people in the Latin American countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela during the year 2003.  Within this study, there were 20,584 individuals who are sons/daughters of the heads of households for whom we can make comparisons.  Since we are interested in parent-child comparisons when both live in the same household, these results do not project to the total population (which includes deceased parents or children, or parents and children living apart).

The next series of charts show the intergenerational comparison of educational levels.  For example, in the first chart, the incidence of post-graduate degrees among the children is 1.5%.  But when the head of household has a postgraduate degree, this incidence shoots up to 17.7%; and then the incidences drop as the educational level of the head of household decreases.  As we walk through the rest of the series, we can see that the modal value (i.e. the highest incidence) always occurs when the parent and child have the same educational level.  Indeed, this is evidence that education is strongly determined by intergenerational influence, which comes in the form of financial, emotional and intellectual support from parents to children.  In terms of policy, a laissez-faire approach would continue to propagate the inequality in educational assets, which determined wealth to a significant degree.  Inequality can be reduced not necessarily by direct re-distribution of wealth only, but by providing equal opportunity in education (e.g. admission quotas, tuition subsidies, etc).  Or, ast least, that is the theory.

The next series of charts is about intergenerational occupational mobility.  Within the TGI Latina study, there were 2,459 households in which the respondents and heads of household were both employed and living in the same home, such that the respondents are children of the respective heads of household.  This permits us to compare the occupations of parents and children.  As a result of the qualification, this means that retired or unemployed respondents/heads of household are not included in these analyses and therefore the results here do nto project to the entire population.  

The charts show the incidences of occupation of respondents classified by the occupation of the heads of household.  For example, the first chart shows that 5.2% of respondents are directors or upper management in their companies.  But when their parents are also directors or upper management, that incidence shoots up to 15.9%.  As we go through the charts, we observe the same phenomenon in which the modal value of the incidence always occur when parents and children have the same occupation.  Once again, this is taken as evidence that intergenerational mobility is not completely free.  Here, the difficulty is that there is no obvious way for society to re-distribute private or public job positions or pay.  

(posted by Roland Soong, 11/21/2003)

(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)