Leveling the Field? Educational Expansion and Occupational Attainment in Latin America

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:30
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Patricio SOLIS, El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico
Pablo DALLE, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Access to education is often portrayed as the “great equalizer” of opportunity. In Latin America, the most unequal region in the world, educational expansion is considered as the most important mechanism for the reduction of poverty and social inequalities. According to this view, expansion of education among children of disadvantaged households, and particularly access to higher education, will foster human capital and therefore contribute to break the cycle of intergenerational reproduction of poverty and social inequalities.

To what extent this view of educational expansion as a mechanism for the reduction of educational inequalities is supported by the actual experience of Latin American countries? In this paper we take a look at this question by analyzing national survey data on intergenerational occupational mobility by educational level in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Out aims are to establish, first, the nature and magnitude of the association between socioeconomic background and educational attainment, second, to what extent access to education increases chances of upward occupational mobility, and third, whether those individuals coming from a disadvantaged social background but with access to education are able to overcome inequality of opportunity and experience similar levels of attainment than those coming from advantaged families.

Our expectation is that our findings will support a “middle ground” interpretation on the effects of education on the equalization of opportunities of occupational attainment. On one hand, we expect a strong and permanent association between socioeconomic background and educational attainment. But given that access to higher education is still restricted for children of families with low socioeconomic background, those who are able to enter this level are positively selected by unobserved positive traits that compensate the negative effects of socioeconomic background, therefore generating a leveling off effect in chances of occupational attainment vis a vis children with an advantaged socioeconomic background.