Social Status and Intergenerational Equality of Opportunity
AbstractThe paper analyses the egalitarian implications of an Intergenerational Equality of Opportunity (EOp) ethic if date of birth is, and is not, considered as a circumstance in a framework where socioeconomic status of one generation affects the circumstances and possibilities of the next one. We do this using a model which builds on the two-class models of Piketty (1995, 1998) and Roemer and Ünveren (2016) where socioeconomic status of one generation affects social mobility of the next. Contrary to these models where income of the different classes is fixed, in our model we assume fixed relative class population and we allow for income to change. Following Bourdieu (1977, 1986), we assume social class affects cultural capital, which in turn influences educational opportunities and future earned income.
Individual characteristics can be divided into two categories: the ones that are due to circumstances beyond one’s control hence people should not be held responsible for; and the ones people should be held responsible for because they are to a great extent due to individual “free” choices. According to Roemer (1998), the vector of characteristics which are considered as circumstances defines individual types such that inequality within types can be considered as fair while inequality across types is unfair. Based on this, an EOp policy should aim to maximise the average welfare (or advantage) across individuals of the worst-off type. Our paper argues that if date of birth is a circumstance then, in a two-class model with infinite generations there will exist infinite types, hence the EOp policy should aim to maximise the average welfare of the worst group that will ever exist. We show that while if date of birth is a circumstance, income inequality reaches high levels in the long run, inequality cannot increase when date of birth is a circumstance.