For each year that a child spends in education, the gap between the rich and poor grows wider, according to a new OECD social mobility report. With a manifold increase in income inequality since 1990s, social mobility factors have stalled, meaning that fewer people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder have moved up, the report findings state.

The report by OECD is a part of their broader Inclusive Growth Initiative, which has just released its Framework for Policy Action, with a dashboard of policy tools and indicators to tackle inequalities. 

This study traced test results conducted with 10-year-olds in 1995, 15-year-olds in 2000 and a decade later with youngsters in their mid-20s. At each individual stage of the social division, apart from a few exceptions, the gap between the classes tended to widen, according to the OECD social mobility report. On average, across more than 60 countries, the difference between the richest and poorest was the equivalent of three years of schooling by the age of 15.

The study further indicated one-out-of-ten disadvantaged children had chances of achieving similar results to those from wealthier backgrounds. Children hailing from affluent families were travelling for education, had more support from their families, higher possibilities of getting into good schools and universities and benefitted more from the involvement of their educated parents.

OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20, Gabriela Ramos said, “Too many people feel they are being left behind and their children have too few chances to get ahead. We need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed, especially the most disadvantaged and that growth becomes truly inclusive.”

According to the findings, by the age of 15, around 13 percent of the variations in the average students’ performance were determined by their social background. This percentage varied within countries with UK at 11 percent below their average, Norway and Estonia at 8 percent, France at 20 percent and Germany and Switzerland at 16 percent.

Furthermore, underprivileged children from countries including Singapore, Japan and Finland were out-performing children from richer families. The test scores of the poorest 20 percent were much higher than the richest 20 percent belonging to countries like Uruguay, Slovak Republic, Brazil and Bulgaria, as per the findings of the study.

The OECD Education Head Andreas Schleicher said: “It shows that students from very similar backgrounds can have very different outcomes.” He added that it also showed the brighter side of the picture, where some countries were ensuring excellent teaching prospects for both the rich and the poor students.

This study also highlighted factors associated with underprivileged learners and how inequality easily penetrates into the education system, influencing social mobility indicators. For instance, numerous students in Singapore would be the first in their families to acquire a degree, while wealthy students in Italy were likely to draw more benefits of the extra university spaces and widening education gaps.

According to another report by OECD, the current levels of intergenerational earnings mobility and inequality were stationary to a point, where it would possibly take five generations or 150 years for poorer children to reach the average income point, across the OECD countries.“It’s worrying because it shows our education systems have not been able to moderate social inequality. Instead, social inequality has grown,” Schleicher said.

As the wealthiest families have been increasing, it’s likely that chances for talented underprivileged students would further narrow down.


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