Change in Social Fluidity over Birth Cohorts in France: Educational Expansion and Democratization of Education As Key Explanatory Mechanisms

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Louis-Andre VALLET, French National Centre for Scientific Research - CNRS - Sciences Po, France
Sociological research on intergenerational mobility and the status attainment process has recognized for long that education has a twofold role in the development of individual socioeconomic trajectories. First, as level of education attained is the major variable mediating the association between class origin and class position in adult life, education is the main vehicle of social reproduction across generations. Second, as level of education attained is not strictly determined by class of origin and other ascriptive criteria, education also is a key factor that promotes intergenerational social mobility. Taking France as a case study, we address the role of education at the societal level by examining to what extent historical change in social fluidity across cohorts is linked to, and produced by, two mechanisms that describe change across cohorts in the distribution and allocation of education: educational expansion on the one hand, reduction in inequality of educational opportunity on the other hand.

Using the 1970, 1977, 1985, 1993, 2003 and 2014-15 Formation – Qualification Professionnelle surveys conducted by the French Statistical Office (INSEE), the paper analyzes how intergenerational social mobility and social fluidity have evolved in France for men and women born between 1906 and 1985. It demonstrates that the association between class of origin and class of destination has become weaker in recent cohorts than in older ones, and shows that the same association also diminishes with age, i.e., along the occupational career. Finally, a simulation and counterfactual exercise reveals that change in education has played a key role in the process of increasing social fluidity. In the immediate post-war cohort, the reduction in inequality of educational opportunity is the main factor and the educational expansion is the secondary factor for explaining increasing social fluidity, but the relative importance of these two factors is reversed in more recent cohorts.