why is it broken and how to fix it?


In France, intergenerational inequalities are transmitted more significantly than in a large number of other European countries. That is, individuals have difficulty ascending the social ladder, and have difficulty getting rid of their parents ’socioeconomic heritage. In this sense, education can play a key role in repairing the social ladder. Deciphered.

Inequalities, redistribution and economic mobility in France

Inequalities in living standards, lower in France than in the European average

The Gini index allows us to take into account the level of inequality for a variable (income, salary, standard of living, etc.) and for a given population. It varies between 0 and 1, the value 0 corresponds to perfect equality and the value 1 to extreme inequality.

In 2019, when inequalities in living standards were measured, it amounted to 0.293 points in France according to INSEE, a pretty good situation compared to other European countries such as Germany (0.344 points) or Spain (0.321) . France is slightly more equal than the European average estimated at 0.302.

France’s social model based on solidarity through the redistribution mechanism contributes to the fact that inequalities do not increase in the country, and have remained stable between 0.28 and 0.30 since the late 1990s, apart from the period of rupture 2010-2012.

Lack of economic mobility

However, among OECD countries, France is one of the countries with the lowest economic mobility, ie where the level of income of children remains strongly correlated with that of their parents.

The conclusions of an OECD report on the subject dating from June 2018 are clear: in France, but also in Germany, it would take six generations, or 180 years, for a descendant of a family at the bottom of the lowest income scale (10%) rises to the average level. On average in 24 OECD countries, it would take five generations. It is at the bottom and at the top of the social ladder where there is less mobility.

“Redistribution supports the standard of living of the poorest households, but does not correct disparities in the middle of distribution,” said Laurence Boone, chief economist at the OECD, and Antoine Goujard, France Office. ‘OECD in this article.

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The transmission of human capital by parents

So why do inequalities tend to recur, especially in France? To understand this, we need to look at the theory of human capital and its transmission. Human capital is defined by the OECD as “the set of knowledge, qualifications, skills and individual characteristics that facilitate the creation of personal, social and economic well-being”. In short, they are all social and cultural competencies: knowledge, educational level, but also ways of being, interaction skills, “soft skills” … In addition to social and economic capital, it is this capital that largely dictates the possibilities of the individual. to reach high levels on the social and economic scale.

However, several researchers have shown that this set of knowledge and know-how is transmitted in a very unequal way according to the social origin, depending on the decisions taken by parents in terms of spending and investment in the education of children. your children

Thus, the financial constraints of less affluent households limit investment in education, cultural capital, and social skills. “More educated parents, who are also richer, are more likely to invest in their children than less educated parents,” according to a World Bank report. Among the poorest, children do not have access to private lessons, less money is invested in cultural activities …

That is, the social position of the parents influences the destinies of an individual. We can take the example of the level of education: only 17% of the children of low-skilled parents (12% on average in the OECD) pursue higher education, compared to more than 60% of the children of parents who have studied. in the upper. Because the level of education strongly conditions access to higher-paying jobs, this means that disadvantaged children are less likely to earn high wages in adulthood. In addition to human capital, the network of parental relationships, geographical location, gender, and other circumstances influence social mobility, again to the detriment of the disadvantaged.

Action course to promote equal opportunities

So how can we act to improve this social mobility and allow the most disadvantaged populations out of poverty? To build a world where “every child, wherever he lives, has the same chances of becoming what he aspires to,” as the World Bank President recently stated, schooling plays an essential role. With appropriate educational policies, schooling provides people with a common knowledge base, regardless of their background, accompanies the less privileged children, gives them access to a part of human capital to which they do not have access in their interior. family. To move in this direction, the World Bank report outlines three main lines of action to improve economic mobility between generations.

Invest in education and essential services for the population

Acting on education is a priority given its importance in the accumulation and transmission of human capital. This other World Bank report specifically advocates for investments in improving educational achievement, which represents a way out of poverty. Students who master the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic will see more open doors, both in terms of education and job prospects.

In France, the gap between the most favored and the most disadvantaged students is higher than the OECD average, to the point that France is one of the most unequal countries with Luxembourg, Israel and Hungary, as the study shows. of Pisa (International Program for Monitoring Student Achievement) which measured the performance of fifteen-year-old students from 79 countries. It is this gap that explains the decline in the educational level of French students.

Working on curricula and teaching methods, but also giving more human resources to the school (more teachers, for example, would allow for smaller classes) are ways to correct the weaknesses of the French school system, and thus achieve academic success. less dependent on family environment.

Other investments can be made in essential services such as health, services from which a child must benefit from an early age if intergenerational mobility is to be improved and human capital strengthened. Public policies play a crucial role in giving every child, regardless of where their parents come from, the same opportunities to fully express their potential. And it is also a way to promote economic growth with the least excluded and to limit poverty.

The OECD notes that “countries that have already invested heavily in education or health in general are showing greater mobility.”

Prioritize the most disadvantaged population categories

While the amount of investments allocated partly determines the success of the implemented policy, the way in which they are allocated is essential.

“In order to break the vicious circle of poverty, it is essential to rely on local measures,then the regions to the districts. The poor tend to live in the poorest areas, where schools are weak, infrastructure is deteriorating, services are poor and unavailable, and crime problems are greater than elsewhere, all factors weighing on the ability to live. ‘learn, grow and develop from children. » explained the World Bank.

In France, however, there is a structural problem of allocating resources in education. Thus, the Court of Auditors had issued an interim order stating that less-favored schools and institutes, those with high failure rates, benefited less from public money allocations than some more establishments. Basically, money is misplaced and doesn’t always reach those who need it most.

Foster the aspirations of young people for a better future

However, the personal component of success should not be overlooked, as sociologist Marie Duru-Bellat explains. With a very deterministic discourse, people of modest origin may thus feel doomed to remain precarious, and out of control over their future. It can also lead to the development of a certain resentment or shame in relation to their origins.

However, in order to improve social mobility, on the contrary, it is necessary to awaken in disadvantaged people a feeling of hope, of confidence, which will lead them to invest in their own success. To do this, the World Bank believes that it is necessary to integrate behavioral analysis into policies and programs. ” so that we can more effectively reach those who are left behind in the development process“. It is about looking at the influence of contextual factors (the social environment, for example), on the behavior and decision-making of individuals. This approach to combating poverty and inequality through behavioral science helps to better identify the brakes on the side of individuals, and thus fight the problem more effectively.

To talk to young people about the sensitive issue of social determinism, Marie Dulu-Bellat proposes to remember that averages are only averages and that they mask part of reality. “Although 47% of working class children do not get a high school diploma, 53% do. So, specifically, there is space: social determinism is not everything, there are exceptions “, he explains. The challenge is not to fall into fatalism, but to awaken motivation among young people. And this motivation also obviously implies a transformation of the system. It is then a virtuous circle, in which a more effective social scale motivates individuals to emancipate and develop, which has many benefits for society as a whole.

In short, there is an urgent need, collectively, to address the challenge of improving the social ladder, softening inequalities, focusing on a more equitable education, giving everyone access to better opportunities.

Photo of NeONBRAND a Unsplash

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