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Education and

Social Mobility

Key message

Education provides children with skills that allow them to secure better jobs and pay, increasing their social mobility and providing a pathway out of poverty.

Societies with elevated social mobility are more equal, inclusive and peaceful, with increased economic growth. Education increases the chances that youth will remain socially mobile and not fall back into poverty or pass it onto the next generation.
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Key challenges
  • Differences in education can lead to unequal access to high quality jobs where youth can develop professional skills. 
    (OECD, 2014)
  • Socio-economic status can shape a child's ambitions and education outcomes. Across OECD countries, only half of 15-year-olds from households of low socio-economic status expect to complete higher education, compared to more than four out of five from high-status households.
    (OECD, 2022)
  • Unequal distribution of education budgets reinforce divisions. Education budgets often favour the wealthiest and most advantaged areas. On average in low-income countries, 46% of public education resources are allocated to educating the most-educated 10% of students.
    (Education Commission, 2016)
  • Educational and economic mobility are most stagnant where substantial learning gaps exist between students at differing ends of the socio-economic scale. This is a result of unequal education systems.
    (World Bank, 2018)
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Make the case
  • Education is a strong predictor and driver of social mobility. In Tanzania, workers with primary education were 20% less likely to be poor, and those with secondary education 60% less likely. Contrarily, 82% of workers with less than a primary education lived below the poverty line.
    (Guarcello et al., 2012)
  • Providing education for all will impact the social mobility of the poorest on a large scale. Education can break intergenerational cycles of poverty. When children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive a quality education, they are in a better position to secure stable employment, increase earning potential and improve their quality of life. Overall, this promotes social mobility and can reduce poverty rates.
    (Mian, 2023)
  • Education helps children build skills that can positively impact their social mobility. Education can cultivate social and cultural knowledge and skills which can impact an individual’s social mobility. It allows them to create relationships, build networks and social connections that can then open the door to various different job opportunities.
    (Mian, 2023)
  • Education helps mitigate the chances of reduced social mobility. In Indonesia, one additional year of school decreased the probability of falling back into poverty by 25%.
    (EFA GMR, 2013)
  • Social mobility is good for economic growth. If social mobility were increased by 10% globally, economic growth would increase by almost 5% over the next decade.
    (World Economic Forum, 2020)
  • Increased investment in quality early childhood education sets a fair playing field and expands social mobility. Increasing the educational effectiveness of early childhood programmes would have a greater impact on increasing social mobility than simply increasing attendance, with benefits that outweigh the costs.
    (Barnett & Belfield, 2006)
  • Segregation and low social mixing can reinforce inequality of opportunity. The academic performance of students is often worse in schools where most students come from disadvantaged backgrounds – regardless of their own parents’ socio-economic standing.
    (OECD, 2010)
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Key talking points
  • Education promotes social mobility by giving people skills that allow them to get better and more secure work.
  • Social mobility creates more peaceful and equal societies.
  • Society mobility supports economic growth.
  • Higher education increases a person’s social mobility and their chances of escaping poverty.
  • Improving the effectiveness of early childhood education boosts social mobility.
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