Social mobility for an Argentina with equal opportunities

Argentina’s situation in terms of equality of opportunity is intermediate: better than that observed in less favoured parts of the world, but still far from the standards registered in developed countries. Increasing social mobility in our country is a fundamental objective of public policy. Achieving this requires understanding the patterns of social mobility. What factors determine educational and occupational advancement? How much depends on the household and is inherited from parents to children?

Social mobility: a public policy challenge

A large part of the efforts made by States seek to equalize opportunities. To offer their citizens the same possibilities to develop their objectives, regardless of their social origin. Within this framework, increasing the level of social mobility appears as a fundamental objective.

Although Argentina is characterized by a significant deployment of policies aimed at equalizing opportunities (in particular, a broad public system of free education and health provision), empirical evidence shows that there is still much that public policy can do to pave the way towards a more equitable society.

Our country has much lower levels of inequality than almost all of its neighbours, although still far from those of developed economies. At the same time, its level of social mobility is also low when compared to that observed in more prosperous countries, which is a potentially major obstacle in the process of reducing these inequalities.

Social mobility: the Argentine situation

This map divides countries into four quartiles according to their level of educational mobility. The first quartile brings together the countries with the highest mobility: a group composed mainly of developed countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden and Finland. At the opposite extreme, the fourth quartile brings together the least mobile countries, such as Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Portugal, Turkey and India. Argentina is located in the third quartile along with all the neighbouring countries (except Bolivia) and also Mexico, Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia and Indonesia, among others.

Educational mobility and economic development

If we look at the relationship between intergenerational educational persistence and income level, we observe that more affluent countries have higher levels of intergenerational mobility (lower persistence). Argentina’s level of educational persistence is somewhat higher than predicted by its GDP. This means that, given its level of material well-being, Argentina could aspire to higher educational mobility, which lends support to the idea that there are opportunities for public intervention.

Educational mobility and inequality

Societies with greater social mobility (less persistence) eventually achieve a high degree of equality (less inequality). However, only 12% of the differences in mobility between countries can be explained by differences in inequality. Inequality is not a good predictor of social mobility. Mobility and inequality probably cause each other and there are no simple strategies to separate one effect from the other. The fact that Argentina lies practically on the linear line of adjustment indicates that the level of mobility in Argentina seems to be in line with the inequality that characterizes its economy.

What does the level of education attained by children depend on?

Intergenerational persistence coefficient (IPC) is the most popular indicator of intergenerational mobility. It measures the intensity of the relationship between a certain attribute measured in sons and their fathers (and between daughters and their mothers). A higher CPI value implies that the results of parents and children are more closely related, which implies less social mobility (or less independence of social origin), and vice versa. The attribute chosen in this case is the total years of formal education completed by the individual, a common measure of educational attainment.

Year of birth

Individuals born before 1950 have a higher persistence of educational level between generations than those born between 1980 and 1990. This indicates that educational mobility in Argentina has grown considerably throughout the second half of the 20th century. This result is determined, in part, by the educational expansion of the last half century, which in turn responds to a large extent to public policies, especially the extension of compulsory schooling.

Parents' educational level and upward mobility

If we look at the evolution of the education of fathers/children and mothers/daughters in Argentina, there is a positive trend towards educational mobility, coupled with the absence of considerable differences between men and women.

However, if we consider the possibility of children of poorly educated parents reaching high levels of education, the picture is rather less optimistic. Even if it increases slightly in the years considered, the proportion of children of parents who did not complete secondary education who reach a university level of education is low and the difference between males and females is substantial.

Household types

  Educational intergenerational persistence

(educational CPI)

Upward educational mobility


Son/father Daughter/mother Son/father Daughter/mother
Household type Nuclear

(head of household + spouse)

0,50 0,51 12% 18%

(single parent)

0,44 0,46 7%

Whether we consider mobility or upward mobility, there are important differences between those who come from nuclear households and those who grew up in single-parent households. Nuclear households are characterized by lower mobility but, at the same time, higher upward mobility. This highlights the fundamental role of care work.

Is job quality transmitted from parents to children?

Occupational mobility. To measure occupational mobility, it is necessary to use indicators that capture the qualitative features of job insertion, such as the fact that the job is skilled or belongs to a given productive sector. The interest lies in calculating how much the probability of an individual occupying a position with a certain attribute increases because his or her parents held a similar position.

The labour market is the main source of income for most individuals. Therefore, the existence of intergenerational transmission patterns of labour or productive attributes is an important vehicle for the reproduction of social inequalities, insofar as the children of parents who have poor-quality jobs are inserted, once again, in positions with negative characteristics.

Job Qualification

Son Daughter
Qualified Unqualified Qualified Unqualified

(professional or technical)

Qualified 50,1% 49,9% 49,1% 50,9%
Unqualified 20,8% 79,2% 19,7% 80,3%
Restrictive definition

(professional only)

Qualified 41,6% 58,4% 23,1% 76,9%
Unqualified 8,7% 91,3% 5,9% 94,1%


Almost all of the people whose parents performed unskilled tasks also work in unskilled jobs. On the other hand, having grown up in a household where the father or mother had a skilled job quadruples the probability that the son or daughter will have access to a skilled job. For those workers whose parents had a skilled job, the probability of having a similar job is 41.6% for males and 23.1% for females, a considerable difference by gender.

Formality of employment

Son Daughter
Formal Informal Formal Informal
EMPLOYMENT FATHER/MOTHER Formal 84,5% 15,5% 73,7% 26,3%
Informal 74,2% 25,8% 50,2% 49,8%


Males whose fathers were formally employed have an 84.5% probability of being formally employed, while this proportion is 11% lower for those who grew up in a household where the father worked informally. For females, this difference amounts to more than 23%.


Although there are different views on the virtues and defects of self-employment, there is consensus on the fact that self-employment does not offer labour protection and that, apart from a specific group, it is associated with low and unstable incomes. Therefore, the intergenerational transmission of self-employment can be interpreted as a negative pattern of social mobility.

Son Daughter
Self-employed Salaried worker Self-employed Salaried employee
EMPLOYMENT FATHER/MOTHER Self-employed 27,9% 72,1% 20,9% 79,1%
Salaried employee 18,1% 81,9% 13,2% 86,8%


The children of self-employed parents have a 27.9% probability of emulating this insertion in the labour market, while this proportion is reduced to 18.1% for the children of salaried workers. For women, the results are similar.

Job hierarchy

Job hierarchy is not strictly a measure of job quality, but it is an indicator of the general quality of the labour trajectory since achieving a hierarchical position generally implies a virtuous performance in the labour market.

Sons Daughters
Hierarchical Non-hierarchical Hierarchical Non-hierarchical

(directors and managers)

Hierarchical 27,9% 72,1% 14,8% 85,2%
Non-hierarchical 13,7% 86,3% 5,2% 94,8%
Restrictive definition

(directors only)

Hierarchical 26,3% 73,7% 3,9% 96,1%
Non-hierarchical 8,9% 91,1% 3,4% 96,6%


While for males there is still a significant influence of the father’s hierarchical position on the probability of holding a hierarchical position of their own, a very low influence is observed for females. For men, the probability of holding a hierarchical position almost triples when comparing children of non-directors with children of directors (from 8.9% to 26.3%). In contrast, this difference is not observed in females, where the fact that the mother held a management position has practically no influence on the probability that the daughter will do so.

Mobility between productive sectors

In general terms, we find strong evidence of intergenerational transmission of attributes linked to productive activities. If we omit the effects of the education variable, it has a generally smaller effect on the results, which implies that the transmission from parents to children of productive attributes generally operates through different channels than the transmission of formal education.

If we look at the results of the same exercise carried out for women, it is evident that intergenerational transmission is more limited. This may be because the transmission of productive attributes from mothers to daughters is weaker than from fathers to sons, or because the sample size is smaller, given the lower rate of female employment before 1990.

Intergenerational transmission of occupations is a problem in those sectors typically characterized by low wages or high informality. This occurs in agriculture, hotels and restaurants. To this, we could also add the sectors with strong gender segregation (construction and domestic service, mainly).

The fact that insertion in sectors with poor wage results is transmitted from parents to children (in many cases, regardless of the investment made in formal education) suggests that there are important limits to social mobility. These barriers can take various forms, from limitations in the information available (the trajectory offered by each labour option is not known) to a lack of social or cultural capital necessary to access certain jobs or discrimination.

Where to direct public policies

A key role for public policy can be found in interventions that favour the accumulation of human capital in children from vulnerable households, with special attention to children growing up in single-parent households. Human capital should be understood in a broad sense, including not only educational attributes but also others such as, for example, health.

Some of the proposals that evidence has shown to have a positive impact are:

  • The provision of public education effectively increases intergenerational mobility of educational attainment.
  • The Universal Child Allowance (AUH) generated an increase in the educational attendance of children from vulnerable households, a particularly remarkable achievement for a program whose fiscal cost is low relative to that of other social policies.
  • The provision of public health in general, as well as specific sexual and reproductive health policies also play a central role.
  • Public investment in infrastructure can also contribute positively to social mobility, particularly in terms of mitigating the consequences of problems such as geographic segregation or statistical discrimination.
  • Stabilizing the incomes of vulnerable households is essential to ensure that they can invest in their children’s human capital.
  • Promoting quality employment and reducing labour informality are essential tools for a policy that ensures that the insertion of young people into the labour market leads to virtuous labour trajectories.
  • A tax on enrichment can then function as a partially equalizing mechanism. Taxes on wealth and gratuitous enrichment, together with the inheritability of physical and financial assets, are an important part of the debate on social mobility.

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