Intergenerational class mobility in Europe: a new account and an old story

01 April 2017

INET Working Paper Series
View Journal Article / Working Paper

Comparative research into intergenerational social mobility has been typically restricted to a relatively small number of countries. The aim of this paper is to widen the perspective, and to provide an up-to-date account of the rates of intergenerational class mobility for men, across 30 countries in Europe, using a newly-constructed comparative data-set, based on the European Social Survey. What emerges is that while absolute rates vary widely with national differences in the extent and pattern of class structural change, in the case of relative rates the striking feature is the degree of cross-national similarity. The only countries that have relative rates significantly different from those for the rest are ones with more unequal rates – i.e. lower levels of social fluidity. These countries fall into three groups: Central European mature democracies, Germany and Luxembourg; some Southern European societies, Spain and Portugal; and some of the post-socialist countries, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. The results from this research also indicate that country differences in relative mobility chances have only a very limited part to play in accounting for country differences in absolute mobility rates, implying that the latter are primarily determined by class structural changes and the country variation therein. What is then suggested is that rather than there being any systematic cross-national variation in relative rates of class mobility, these rates are at a similar level in European societies with market economies and nuclear family systems, and any significant variation appears to be resulting from nationally specific factors – in line with the so-called FJH-hypothesis.