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26/9/2020  
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DEBATES

Educational attainment: persistence or movement through generations?

Transmission of level of education between generations

It is well known that there has been a general trend of improved educational attainment in the EU across generations. However, is this general trend visible for all levels of education and in all Member States? A recent report on the Intergenerational transmission of disadvantages published by Eurostat, provides some statistical analyses of these questions.
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In 2011, European adults aged 25-59 were asked about the level of education of their parents, and this was then compared with the respondent’s level of education.

Among respondents whose parents had a low level of education, 34% had a low level of education themselves, 48% had a medium level and 18% a high. Among respondents whose parents had a medium level of education, 8% had a low level of education, 59% a medium and 33% a high. For respondents with parents with a high level of education, only 3% had a low level of education themselves, 33% had a medium level and 63% a high.

The data show that in the Europe, persistence of educational attainment between generations differs according to the level of education of the parents. In line with the general trend, there is movement, mainly to a medium level of education, for those with parents with a low level of education. It should however be noted that, despite this movement, the share of respondents with a low level of education was much higher among those whose parents had a low level of education (34%) than among those whose parents had a high level of education (3%). Also in line with the trend, there is strong persistence of a high level of education between generations. However, it is notable that for those with parents with a medium level of education, movement to a high level is somewhat limited, and there is still significant persistence of a medium level.

These figures are based on data from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Condition (EU-SILC) survey. The report looks at three different factors which have an impact on the risk of poverty or social exclusion: the transmission from parents to children of the level of education, of the ability to make ends meet and of economic situation.

Largest movement from low to high level of education in Finland and the United Kingdom

In 2011, for those with parents with a low level of education, there was a significant movement to a medium level of education in a majority of Member States, with the highest shares in the Czech Republic (83%), Slovakia (78%) and Poland (75%). In Finland and the United Kingdom around a third of respondents had even moved to a high level of education. However, a persistence of a low level of education was observed among half or more of the respondents only in Malta (73%), Portugal (68%), Luxembourg (52%), Spain and Italy (both 50%). The smallest proportions of low level of education were registered in Lithuania (10%), the Czech Republic and Sweden (both 11%).

Strongest persistence of high level of education in Romania, Ireland, Luxembourg and Cyprus

For adults with parents with a high level of education, there was a strong persistence of educational attainment between generations in almost all Member States. More than three quarters of respondents had a high level of education themselves in Romania (82%), Ireland and Luxembourg (both 79%), Cyprus (78%), Belgium (76%) and Spain (75%). Fewer than 10% had a low level in nearly all Member States.

Largest movement from medium to high level of education in France, Cyprus, Ireland, Spain and Greece

In 2011, for adults with parents with a medium level of education, there was a significant persistence of this level of education in a large majority of Member States, with the highest proportions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (both 72%), Croatia (71%) and Austria (70%). However, there was a clear movement to a high level of education in France (56%), Cyprus (53%), Ireland and Spain (both 52%) and Greece (51%).

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