Testing Equality of Opportunity and Mobility Theories: Foundations, Measurements, Policies

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Gabriela Zapata Roman


This dissertation investigates equality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility theories that try to understand the sources of inequality and its persistence through generations. This study aims to critically analyse these theories along three dimensions: economic foundations, measurement and policy implications. This first empirical chapter assesses available methodologies to measure inequality of opportunity (IOp) and applies them to study the evolution of inequality of opportunity estimates in Chile during a seven-year period from 2006 to 2013. We identify the part of income inequality that can be traced to circumstances beyond individuals control such as gender, race, family background, and place of birth. Despite the slight decline in income inequality that the country has experienced, and when considering all circumstances, inequality of opportunities at the household remains constant at .10 between 2006 and 2013 according to the parametric estimation. It rises when the parental background is considered alone and declines when using men's market income. For women, IOp decreased in levels but not as a share of total income inequality. The analysis suggests that parental background is the most relevant variable explaining IOp. Additional circumstances contributed to an increase in the estimates of about 20 per cent in 2006. In 2013 the contribution of additional circumstances to IOp was more modest, only 12 per cent on average. The second empirical chapter develops an analysis of circumstance-specific inequality of opportunity in Chile. We provide a disaggregated analysis, in regions, cohort and gender, of inequality of opportunity measures which examine the specific contribution of each circumstance to the total inequality of opportunity. We try to understand the sources of inequality for particular groups of the population, finding that the effect of some circumstances is not homogeneous. In the Metropolitan region, both at the household level and for men and women, inequality of opportunities has increased from 2006 to 2013. The highest IOp is found in the Metropolitan region and the lowest in the North of the country. IOp estimates are about four times higher in the Capital than in the North. Regarding gender differences, women's income represents about 60 per cent of men's income nationally, and the gender gap has worsened since 2006. The group of women aged 25-35 generally show higher IOp estimates than their male peers. The highest IOp gaps are for these young women when they are the head of the household. The most relevant circumstance is parental education, and particularly in the Metropolitan region, its weight has increased during these seven years. We find higher inequality of opportunity estimates using the Gini index, more than double those obtained with mean logarithmic deviation. The third paper analyses intergenerational persistence in income and education in Chile and Peru for birth cohorts of the early 1950s to 1990. Both countries have seen a structural expansion of education over this period and decreasing income inequality in recent decades. We impute non-observed parental income from repeated cross-sections and estimate persistence in the range of 0.63 to 0.67 in Peru and 0.66 to 0.76 in Chile for household heads of the birth cohorts 1977-1990. The analysis of educational mobility covers household heads of birth cohorts from 1953 to 1990 and relies on retrospective information. We observe an increase in absolute mobility for younger generations in which we relate to the structural expansion of education that created room at the top. In relative terms, mobility patterns remain more stable -parental education is still a strong predictor for own educational achievement. The relationship is non-linear in both countries: persistence among very low and highly educated groups is strong while individuals with parents of average education levels are more mobile. Upward mobility is stronger in Peru than in Chile: the chances to move from no formal education to higher education across one generation are 46 per cent the average in Peru compared to 20 per cent in Chile. The chances of persisting in the top across generations are also slightly higher in Peru with a factor of 3 times the average compared to 2.76 in Chile.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2019