Study reveals that education drives social mobility in Brazil
Parental income has been weighing less on child income, according to a study by Daniel Duque, a researcher of Applied Economics from FGV’s Brazilian Institute of Economics (IBRE). The result indicates that children of underprivileged parents saw an increase in their chances of having a higher income than their parents, indicating that Brazil has progressed in regard to social mobility.
The association between the income of the two generations fell 20 percentage points, from 75% to 55%, over 18 years. The study was carried out based on a special item of the Brazilian Household Sample Survey (PNAD), by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), included in 1996 and 2014. On both occasions, people responded with the education level and occupation of their parents when the respondents were just 15 years old, allowing to estimate their income. For the survey, the expansion of access to basic and fundamental education had a decisive role in improving mobility.
“Inequality of opportunities can have many metrics, one of the most used is the association of parental income and child income. By that measure, the study shows that the inequality of opportunities decreased. We note that children’s income is becoming less like their parents’ income”, said Duque.
And access to education had a predominant role. According to the researcher, that is because the offer of vacancies in public education has expanded in the 1990s compared to the previous decade, when people who were born to underprivileged families had fewer opportunities.
“Intergenerational persistence decreased primarily as a result of the universalization of Basic Education between the late 1980s and the 1990s, which allowed children of parents with little schooling – and therefore less fortunate – to have access to schools, which was not the case before that policy”.
Another important factor in decreasing equality mentioned by Duque is a decrease in the “education return”, which is how many additional years of study are associated with higher incomes. “The smaller the education returns for children compared to their parents, the smaller the income association between them”, said the researcher.
According to the study, the best performance occurred among black women, for whom the difference was 41.10 percentage points in 2014, compared to 1996. Education also influenced this result. “The black population had historically less access to education than the white population, so with the universalization of Basic Education, black people had the biggest increase in schooling. Since it has been shown that women study on average longer than men in recent decades, they had an even greater increase in schooling, and therefore a greater increase in income compared to their parents”.
The influence of education gives an alert. According to the economist, we must act on two fronts in order to continue improving. First, we must improve the quality of public education, which is worse than private education. Then, we need public policies to reduce the school dropout rate, which prevents young people from underprivileged families from attending High School and, especially, from accessing Higher Education.