Educational inheritance and the distribution of occupations: Evidence from South Africa



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Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit


University of Cape Town


We analyse the role of educational opportunity in shaping inequality in the distribution of occupations in the long-run. We start by modelling the probability that a child occupies the same or a different rung on the occupational ladder as her parents controlling for both the educational attainment of the child, as well as the level of educational opportunity of the child. These conditional probabilities are then used to construct separate transition matrices by level of educational opportunity, race and gender, which in turn are used to the compute the steady-state distribution of occupations. Finally, we use the timing of political events in the history of the struggle to end Apartheid to devise an identification strategy that permits a causal interpretation of the role of educational opportunity. We find evidence that educational opportunity has a strong conditioning effect on the distribution of occupations in steady state. In particular, African female children who inherit the same level of educational opportunity as their parents are 9% more likely to be in the bottom of the occupation distribution in steady-state, than the observed rate for the population at large, whereas they would face a 4% lower probability if they were exposed to better educational opportunities.