The research theme will focus on the following three areas:
1. Making sense of the myriad approaches to measuring intergenerational transmission and improving the comparability of these measures.
Although there is much conceptual common ground among scholars analyzing horizontal inequalities, opportunity and mobility, empirical findings are highly sensitive to methodological choices. This limits our ability to compare empirical results and to see the “big picture”. We actually know very little about how horizontal inequalities are distributed around the globe. This is due at least in part to the fact that our “findings” about horizontal inequalities are crucially dependent on the kinds of data we have: Cross-section surveys versus panel surveys; surveys versus registries and other administrative data sources; income data versus data on surnames; etc. Even among a certain class of surveys, much depends on sample size; the availability of information on circumstance variables; and so on. Moreover, different techniques, ranging from standard inequality decompositions to more sophisticated machine learning algorithms can also yield different “stories” (although sometimes there is a reassuring measure of agreement…).
There are also different practices as to whether intergenerational persistence should be studied looking at the transmission of a single outcome across generations, such as income or education; or incorporate the effect of a wider range of family and personal characteristics from one generation on the next. The research theme will investigate what implication these data- and method- dependencies have for comparisons over time and, especially, across countries. The final aim is to propose methods to improve the comparability of measures obtained, across countries, over time, and across disciplines.
2. How do opportunity and intergenerational transmission relate to people’s understanding of fairness? Political philosophers, sociologists, economists and others have long grappled with the question of what makes a society just, or unjust. For many, issues of inequality and inequity feature prominently, but there is a wide range of views as to which inequalities are acceptable or unacceptable; and as to how trade-offs that might arise between the pursuit of equity and other desiderata (such as certain rights and freedoms, or prosperity) should be dealt with. This area or research lies at the confluence of many academic disciplines and could be a fruitful topic for work at the III.
3. What are the consequences of widespread unequal opportunity and intergenerational persistence? When large groups of people – such as women; people of colour; people with disabilities; people of lower castes; and so on – are excluded from opportunity, it stands to reason that human talent is likely to be underdeveloped and underused. Does this have consequences beyond unfairness – e.g. on the efficiency of resource allocation; on investment and growth; on people’s health; on crime or political conflict?