This paper begins by proposing two cardinal measures of inequality in life chances. Using as its database a matrix in which the lines correspond to the social category of parents and the columns to the income distribution of their children, it then highlights the importance of the marginal distributions when comparing social immobility within two populations. It also shows how it is possible to neutralize differences in these margins. The idea is to adapt a method used in the field of occupational segregation measurement that allows one to make a distinction between differences in gross and net social immobility, assuming that the marginal distributions of the two populations are identical. Borrowing ideas from recent literature on the equality of opportunity, the paper then defines the concept of an inequality in circumstances curve and relates it to that of a social immobility curve. Two empirical datasets are used to determine the usefulness of the concepts presented. The first dataset comes from a survey conducted in France in 1998 and allows one to measure the degree of social immobility and of inequality in circumstances on the basis of the occupation of fathers or mothers and the income class to which sons or daughters belong. The second dataset, drawn from a social survey conducted in Israel in 2003, is the basis for a study of social immobility and inequality in circumstances, emphasizing the transition from the educational level of the fathers to the income class of the children. Both illustrations confirm the usefulness of the analytical tools described in this paper.
Equality of Opportunity France Inequality in Circumstances Inequality in Life Chances Israel Social Mobility