Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Gender, education expansion and intergenerational educational mobility around the world

Abstract

The extent to which people’s social status is associated with their parents’ status has far-reaching implications for the openness of and stratification in society. Whereas most research focused on the father-child association in advanced economies, less is known about the role mothers play in intergenerational mobility, particularly in a global context. We assembled a dataset of 1.79 million individuals born in 1956–1990 across 106 societies to examine the global patterns of intergenerational educational mobility and how they vary with education expansion and changes in parents’ educational pairing. With education expansion, father-child associations in educational status become weaker and mother-child associations become stronger. With the prevalence of hypogamous parents (mother more educated), mother-child associations are stronger, but father-child associations are weaker. With the prevalence of hypergamous parents (father more educated), mother-daughter associations are weaker. Our global evidence calls for a gender-sensitive understanding of how education expansion matters for intergenerational mobility.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Cohort changes in education composition, by region and society.
Fig. 2: Cohort changes in parents’ educational pairing patterns, by region and society.
Fig. 3: Coefficients for mothers’ and fathers’ educational positions from models predicting men’s and women’s educational positions, across 106 societies.
Fig. 4: Coefficients for mothers’ and fathers’ educational positions from models predicting men’s and women’s educational positions, across 1956–1990 birth cohorts.
Fig. 5: Average marginal effects of education expansion and parents’ educational pairing patterns on intergenerational educational persistence.
Fig. 6: Predicted coefficients for parents’ educational positions over the distributions of education expansion and parents’ educational pairing patterns.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

Secondary data from multinational and national surveys and United Nations archival records were analysed in this study. As the datasets are proprietary and require access permission from the original data collectors/holders, we are unable to make the data publicly available. The datasets and links to apply for and download the data are as follows, with further information provided in Supplementary Information Section 1.1: Encuesta de Caracterización Socioeconómica Nacional (https://www.casen2022.gob.cl/); General Social Survey, Canada (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/89F0115X); Chinese General Social Survey (http://cgss.ruc.edu.cn/English/Home.htm); Ecuador Living Conditions Survey (https://www.ecuadorencifras.gob.ec/documentos/web-inec/ECV/ECV_2015/); EDAM – Enquête Djiboutienne auprès des Ménages – Indicateurs Sociaux (https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalogue/3463); EMOVI – ESRU Social Mobility Survey in Mexico (https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/web/DSDR/studies/35333); Encuesta Nacional de Calidad de Vida (https://www.datos.gov.co/Estad-sticas-Nacionales/Encuesta-Nacional-de-Calidad-de-Vida-ECV-/mz9y-3x9k); European Social Survey (https://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/); European Values Survey (https://europeanvaluesstudy.eu/); Generations and Gender Programme (https://www.ggp-i.org/); General Household Survey, Nigeria (https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/3557); General Social Survey, USA (https://gss.norc.org/); Household Income and Expenditure Survey, Liberia (https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2986); India Human Development Survey (https://ihds.umd.edu/); The Indonesian Family Life Survey (https://www.rand.org/well-being/social-and-behavioural-policy/data/FLS/IFLS.html); Integrated Household Survey (Gambia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/3323/related-materials; Malawi: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/1003, https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2936, https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/3818); International Social Survey Programme (https://issp.org/); Japanese General Social Survey (https://csrda.iss.u-tokyo.ac.jp/english/socialresearch/joint/); Korean General Social Survey (https://kossda.snu.ac.kr/handle/20.500.12236/21830); Kagera Health and Development Survey, Tanzania (https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/359, https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/79, https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2251); Living Conditions Survey (Benin: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4291; Burkina Faso: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4290; Cote D’Ivoire: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2847; Guinea-Bissau: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4293; Mali: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4295; Niger: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4296; Senegal: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4297; Togo: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/4298); Life in Transitions Survey (https://www.ebrd.com/what-we-do/economic-research-and-data/data/lits.html); Labour Market Panel Surveys (Egypt: http://www.erfdataportal.com/index.php/catalog/157; Jordan: http://www.erfdataportal.com/index.php/catalog/139; Tunisia: http://www.erfdataportal.com/index.php/catalog/105); Living Standard Measurement Survey (Albania: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/64;

Brazil: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/277;

Ghana: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog?sort_by=rank&sort_order=desc&sk=LSMS+ghana+;

Nigeria: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/1002); National Income Dynamics Study, South Africa (http://www.nids.uct.ac.za/); National Panel Survey, Uganda (https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/1001/; https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2663); National Household Sample Survey, Brazil (https://www.ibge.gov.br/en/statistics/social/housing/20620-summary-of-indicators-pnad2.html?=&t=microdados); Socioeconomic Survey (Ethiopia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/3823; Ghana: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2534; Iraq: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2334); STEP Skills Measurement Household Survey (Armenia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2010; Bolivia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2011;

Colombia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2012;

Georgia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2013; Ghana: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2015; Kenya: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2226; Laos: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2016; Macedonia: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2568; the Philippines: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/3182; Sri Lanka: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2017; Ukraine: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2572; Vietnam: https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2018); Taiwan Social Change Survey (https://www2.ios.sinica.edu.tw/sc/en/home2.php); World Values Survey (https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp) and World Population Prospects (https://population.un.org/wpp/).

Code availability

The codes for data cleaning, harmonization, analysis and production of all graphs and tables reported in the main article and Supplementary Information (Section 1.5) are publicly available through the Open Science Framework at https://osf.io/3q75x/.

References

  1. Torche, F. Analyses of intergenerational mobility: an interdisciplinary review. Ann. Am. Acad. Polit. Soc. Sci. 657, 37–62 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Morgan, A. C. et al. Socioeconomic roots of academic faculty. Nat. Hum. Behav. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01425-4 (2022).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  3. Breen, R. & Jonsson, J. O. Explaining change in social fluidity: educational equalization and educational expansion in twentieth‐century Sweden. Am. J. Sociol. 112, 1775–1810 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Fischer, C. S. & Hout, M. Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006).

  5. Song, X. & Mare, R. D. Short-term and long-term educational mobility of families: a two-sex approach. Demography 54, 145–173 (2017).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Case, A. & Deaton, A. The great divide: education, despair, and death. Annu. Rev. Econ. 14, 1–21 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Dotti Sani, G. M. & Treas, J. Educational gradients in parents’ child-care time across countries, 1965–2012. J. Marriage Fam. 78, 1083–1096 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Oreopoulos, P. & Salvanes, K. G. Priceless: the nonpecuniary benefits of schooling. J. Econ. Perspect. 25, 159–184 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Psacharopoulos, G. & Patrinos, H. A. Returns to investment in education: a decennial review of the global literature. Educ. Econ. 26, 445–458 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Subramanian, S. V., Huijts, T. & Avendano, M. Self-reported health assessments in the 2002 World Health Survey: how do they correlate with education? Bull. World Health Organ. 88, 131–138 (2010).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Torche, F. in Social Mobility in Developing Countries (eds Iversen, V. et al.) 139–171 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2021).

  12. Barone, C. & Ruggera, L. Educational equalization stalled? Trends in inequality of educational opportunity between 1930 and 1980 across 26 European nations. Eur. Soc. 20, 1–25 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Shavit, Y. & Blossfeld, H.-P. Persistent Inequality: Changing Educational Attainment in Thirteen Countries (Westview Press, 1993).

  14. Power, C. The Power of Education: Education for All, Development, Globalisation and UNESCO (Springer, 2014).

  15. Narayan, A. et al. Fair Progress? Economic Mobility Across Generations Around the World (World Bank, 2018).

  16. Meyer, J. W., Ramirez, F. O. & Soysal, Y. N. World expansion of mass education, 1870–1980. Sociol. Educ. 65, 128–149 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Schofer, E. & Meyer, J. W. The worldwide expansion of higher education in the twentieth century. Am. Sociol. Rev. 70, 898–920 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Thornton, A., Dorius, S. F. & Swindle, J. Developmental idealism: the cultural foundations of world development programs. Sociol. Dev. 1, 277–320 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Azomahou, T. T. & Yitbarek, E. A. Intergenerational Education Mobility in Africa: Has Progress Been Inclusive? (World Bank, 2016).

  20. Blanden, J. & Macmillan, L. Educational inequality, educational expansion and intergenerational mobility. J. Soc. Policy 45, 615–615 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Treiman, D. J. Industrialization and social stratification. Sociol. Inq. 40, 207–234 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kuznets, S. Economic growth and income inequality. Am. Econ. Rev. 45, 1–28 (1955).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Meschi, E. & Scervini, F. Expansion of schooling and educational inequality in Europe: the educational Kuznets curve revisited. Oxf. Econ. Pap. 66, 660–680 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Lucas, S. R. Effectively maintained inequality: education transitions, track mobility, and social background effects. Am. J. Sociol. 106, 1642–1690 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2021).

  26. Goldscheider, F., Bernhardt, E. & Lappegård, T. The gender revolution: a framework for understanding changing family and demographic behavior. Popul. Dev. Rev. 41, 207–239 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Van Bavel, J., Schwartz, C. R. & Esteve, A. The reversal of the gender gap in education and its consequences for family life. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 44, 341–360 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Blanden, J. Cross-country rankings in intergenerational mobility: a comparison of approaches from economics and sociology. J. Econ. Surv. 27, 38–73 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Breen, R., Luijkx, R., Müller, W. & Pollak, R. Nonpersistent inequality in educational attainment: evidence from eight European countries. Am. J. Sociol. 114, 1475–1521 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Song, X. et al. Long-term decline in intergenerational mobility in the United States since the 1850s. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 251–258 (2020).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Breen, R. Education and intergenerational social mobility in the US and four European countries. Oxf. Rev. Econ. Policy 35, 445–466 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hertz, T., Tamara, J., Piraino, P., Sibel, S. & Nicole, S. The inheritance of educational inequality: international comparisons and fifty-year trends. B. E. J. Econ. Anal. Policy 7, 1–30 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  33. van der Weide, R. et al. Intergenerational Mobility Around the World (World Bank, 2021).

  34. Aydemir, A. B. & Yazici, H. Intergenerational education mobility and the level of development. Eur. Econ. Rev. 116, 160–185 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Chow, A. & Guppy, N. Intergenerational educational mobility over the past century in Canada. Can. Rev. Sociol. 58, 372–398 (2021).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Minello, A. & Blossfeld, H.-P. From mother to daughter: changes in intergenerational educational and occupational mobility in Germany. Int. Stud. Sociol. Educ. 24, 65–84 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Xie, Y., Dong, H., Zhou, X. & Song, X. Trends in social mobility in postrevolution China. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 119, e2117471119 (2022).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. Beller, E. Bringing intergenerational social mobility research into the twenty-first century: why mothers matter. Am. Sociol. Rev. 74, 507–528 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Gerber, T. P. & Hout, M. Educational stratification in Russia during the Soviet period. Am. J. Sociol. 101, 611–660 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Park, H., Buchmann, C., Choi, J. & Merry, J. J. Learning beyond the school walls: trends and implications. Annu. Rev. Socio. 42, 231–252 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Lareau, A. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (Univ. of California Press, 2003).

  42. Craig, L. & Mullan, K. How mothers and fathers share childcare: a cross-national time-use comparison. Am. Sociol. Rev. 76, 834–861 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Guryan, J., Hurst, E. & Kearney, M. Parental education and parental time with children. J. Econ. Perspect. 22, 23–46 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Hays, S. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (Yale Univ. Press, 1996).

  45. Jaeger, M. M. Educational mobility across three generations: the changing impact of parental social class, economic, cultural and social capital. Eur. Soc. 9, 527–550 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Esteve, A. et al. The end of hypergamy: global trends and implications. Popul. Dev. Rev. 42, 615–625 (2016).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  47. Erát, D. Educational assortative mating and the decline of hypergamy in 27 European countries. Demogr. Res. 44, 157–188 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Eika, L., Mogstad, M. & Zafar, B. Educational assortative mating and household income inequality. J. Polit. Econ. 127, 2795–2835 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Han, S. W. Is it only a numbers game? A macro-level study of educational hypogamy. Demography 59, 1571–1593 (2022).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Raymo, J. M. & Iwasawa, M. Marriage market mismatches in Japan: an alternative view of the relationship between women’s education and marriage. Am. Sociol. Rev. 70, 801–822 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. World Population Dashboard (United Nations Population Fund, 2022).

  52. Benavot, A. & Riddle, P. The expansion of primary education, 1870–1940: trends and issues. Sociol. Educ. 61, 191–210 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Williams, R. Using the margins command to estimate and interpret adjusted predictions and marginal effects. Stata J. 12, 308–331 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Hannum, E. & Buchmann, C. Global educational expansion and socio-economic development: an assessment of findings from the social sciences. World Dev. 33, 333–354 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Duncan, S. & Edwards, R. Single Mothers in International Context: Mothers or Workers? (Routledge, 2013).

  56. World Population Prospects (UN Population Division, 2019).

  57. Barakat, B. & Shields, R. Just another level? Comparing quantitative patterns of global expansion of school and higher education attainment. Demography 56, 917–934 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. Bhatia, A., Krieger, N. & Subramanian, S. V. Learning from history about reducing infant mortality: contrasting the centrality of structural interventions to early 20th-century successes in the United States to their neglect in current global initiatives. Milbank Q. 97, 285–345 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  59. Standard Country or Area Code for Statistical Use (UN Statistics Division, 2023); https://unstats.un.org/unsd/methodology/m49/

  60. Snijders, T. A. & Bosker, R. J. Multilevel Analysis: An Introduction to Basic and Advanced Multilevel Modeling (Sage, 2011).

  61. Frees, E. W. Longitudinal and Panel Data: Analysis and Applications in the Social Sciences (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004).

  62. Mason, C. H. & Perreault, W. D. Collinearity, power, and interpretation of multiple regression analysis. J. Mark. Res. 28, 268–280 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Wooldridge, J. M. Econometric Analysis of Cross Section and Panel Data (MIT Press, 2010).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Y. T. Nip for research assistance with the preliminary screening of Canada’s General Social Survey data, and N. Guppy for helpful comments on the results of our initial analysis. The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

Y.H. and Y.Q. conceptualized and designed the study. Y.H. curated the datasets and conducted the data analysis. Y.Q. conducted analysis replication and validation. Y.H. and Y.Q. wrote, reviewed, revised, edited and finalized the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yang Hu or Yue Qian.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Human Behaviour thanks Sarah Giroux, Jo Blanden and Moris Triventi for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Figs. 1–22, Tables 1–10, Results and References.

Reporting Summary

Peer Review File

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hu, Y., Qian, Y. Gender, education expansion and intergenerational educational mobility around the world. Nat Hum Behav 7, 583–595 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-023-01545-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-023-01545-5

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing