Opportunity, Mobility and the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality

The aim of this new research theme at the III is to foster an exchange of ideas and findings among scholars working on horizontal inequalities and intergenerational transmission of well-being from different perspectives and in different disciplines.

Some argue that inequality is like cholesterol: there are good and bad – or, at least, really bad and less bad – kinds of inequality. This research programme will focus on the really bad kind: that which is bequeathed from generation to generation, to the detriment both of social justice and of an efficient distribution of opportunities.

Professor Francisco H. G. Ferreira

Not all inequalities are the same. Philosophers, religious leaders, politicians, policymakers and – most importantly – people at large seem to find some forms of inequality more morally repugnant than others. There is a widely held view, for example, that inequalities due to factors beyond a person’s control – such as race, biological sex, place of birth or family background – are normatively unacceptable.  There is some evidence that they may also hinder society from prospering economically. Many feel that society should seek to redress and, if possible, eliminate such inequalities, also known collectively as inequality of opportunity (and closely related to the concepts of horizontal inequalities and intersectionality).  

Because many critical factors that shape people’s wellbeing independently of their own choices are inherited from one’s family, genetically or otherwise, the study of inequality of opportunity is also closely related to that ofthe intergenerational transmission of outcomes such as income, education and health. That transmission is, of course, the converse of intergenerational mobility. In fact, we argue that inequality of opportunity provides a natural link between inequality of outcomes and intergenerational transmission (immobility): when opportunities for today’s children are very unequal, their lives as adults are bound to be very different. That inequality is then transmitted to the next generation as a new round of unequal life chances. And so the cycle of inequality persistence sustains itself.

This research theme is led by Professor Francisco H. G. Ferreira and Dr Paolo Brunori 

 Watch the theme launch event 'An Idea of Equality for Troubled Times' here

Read more about the theme's focus areas

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? 


Read more about what the theme will aim to do:

  • Opportunity and Mobility Seminar Series: This seminar series aims to become an internationally recognized event for researches active in different disciplines whose research interests deal with horizontal inequalities and mobility in income, education and health. It will be a hybrid (in-person and online) seminar series, but we are committed to hosting the LSE community and presenters in person to the extent possible.
  • Global social mobility database: one main objective of the research theme is to construct and maintain an international database about social mobility, unequal opportunity and intergenerational persistence. The database will include measures of intergenerational persistence widely adopted in social sciences, such as the intergenerational elasticity of income, intergenerational correlation of education, and inequality of opportunity in income. The database will be developed in collaboration with a network of colleagues working at the World Bank, Paris School of Economics, University of Notre Dame and University of Bari. It will be designed in modular fashion, so that it can be easily extended and expanded.
  • Doctoral research group: the Doctoral Research Group on Inequality and Social Mobility is an international forum of early stage researchers across different departments at the LSE. It encourages interdisciplinary collaboration on research for inequality and social mobility. The group approaches these research interests: a) comprehensively: by understanding social mobility as both movements across social and economic positions, and sets of beliefs and narratives that shape the discourse around inequality; b) from a pluralist perspective: by integrating insights from various theoretical perspectives, methodological approaches, ranging across different disciplines; and c) comparatively: by exploring insights from various settings around the world. 
  • A summer school: the theme hopes to organize a summer workshop (or short summer school) as an opportunity for PhD students and early career researchers to physically meet, attend master classes, and present their ongoing research projects on topics related to the theme. 

Theme members

LSE-based scholars:

Anthony Miro Born

Anthony Miro Born 

PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology


Benjamin Brundu-Gonzalez

PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology

Paolo Brunori

Dr Paolo Brunori

Assistant Professorial Research Fellow, LSE III

Asif Butt

Asif Butt

PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology

Julia Buzan

Julia Buzan

PhD Candidate, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science

Dr Joan Costa-i-Font

Dr Joan Costa-Font

Associate Professor in Heath Economics, Department of Health Policy

Malik Fercovic Cerda

Malik Fercovic Cerda

PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology


Professor Frank Cowell | STICERD |People

Professor Frank Cowell

Professor of Economics and MSc Economics (2 year) Programme Director, Department of Economics

Evans-Lacko_ profile

Dr Sara Evans-Lacko

Associate Professorial Research Fellow, Care Policy and Evaluation Centre (CPEC)


Professor Francisco H. G. Ferreira

Amartya Sen Professor of Inequality Studies and Director of the LSE III

Professor Sam Friedman

Professor Sam Friedman

Professor, Department of Sociology, LSE

Fiona Gogescu

Fiona Gogescu

PhD Candidate, Department of Social Policy

Professor Stephen Jenkins

Professor Stephen Jenkins

Professor of Economic and Social Policy, Department of Social Policy, LSE

Professor Jouni Kuha

Professor Jouni Kuha

Professor, Department of Statistics, LSE

Professor Stephen Machin

Professor Stephen Machin 

Professor of Economics, Department of Economics 

Professor Lucinda Platt

Professor Lucinda Platt

Professor of Social Policy and Sociology, Department of Social Policy

Dr Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington

Dr Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington

Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science

Dr Kate Summers

Dr Kate Summers

LSE Fellow in Qualitative Methodology, Department of Methodology

Dr Chana Teeger

Dr Chana Teeger 

Assistant Professor, Department of Methodology

Alex Voorhoeve

Professor Alex Voorhoeve

Professor, Department of Philosophy Logic and Scientific Method

External scholars:

Miles Corak

Professor Miles Corak

Professor of Economics, Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Beatrice D’Hombres

Dr Beatrice D’Hombres 

Senior Scientist, European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC)

Marc Fleurbaey

Professor Marc Fleurbaey 

PSE Chaired Professor, Paris School of Economics

Nita Handastya, N

Nita Handastya 

PhD Candidate, University of Siena

Paul Hufe

Dr Paul Hufe 

Assistant Professor, University of Bristol

Lindsey Macmillan

Professor Lindsey Macmillan 

Professor of Economics, University College London (UCL) 


Dr Daniel Mahler 

Economist, The World Bank

Guido Neidhofer

Dr Guido Neidhöfer 

Researcher, ZEW Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research 

Catia Nicodemo

Dr Catia Nicodemo 

Senior Research Fellow in Health Economics

Flaviana Palmisano

Dr Flaviana Palmisano 

Associate Professor of Public Economics, University of Rome, Sapienza

Andreas Peichl

Professor Andreas Peichl

Professor of Macroeconomics and Public Finance, University of Munich

Vito Peragine

Professor Vito Peragine

Professor, University of Bari

patrizio piraino

Dr Patrizio Piraino

Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame

Fabian Reutzel

Fabian Reutzel

PhD Candidate, Paris School of Economics

Pedro Salas-Rojo

Pedro Salas Rojo

PhD Candidate, Complutense University of Madrid

Giovanna Scarchilli

Dr Giovanna Scarchilli

Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Jan Stuhler

Dr Jan Sthuler 

Associate Professor, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

Christian Thielscher

Professor Christian Thielscher 

FOM Hochschule für Oekonomie & Management


Dr Moris Triventi

Associate Professor in Quantitative Sociology, University of Trento

Annaelena Valentini

Annaelena Valentini

PhD Candidate, University of Siena

Roy van der Weide

Roy van der Weide 

Senior Economist, Poverty and Inequality Research Team, The World Bank

Dirk van der gaer

Professor Dirk van de Gaer

Professor of Microeconomics and Public Economics, Ghent University