Opportunity Begets Merit: Mobility and Heritability in Education

29th April 2019 : 12:45 - 14:00

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Quantitative Methods Hub

Speaker: Per Engzell, Nuffield College, University of Oxford

Location: Seminar Room D, Department of Education

It is widely accepted that how much education an individual gets should not be determined by the education of his or her parents.

Consequently, education policy in many countries aims to equalize the attainment of children from different backgrounds. However, equality of opportunity requires knowing not only whether education is inherited, but how. Many see genetic endowment as a more legitimate basis for inheritance than differences in environment, which we presumably know better how to alter. In this study we ask how the relative weight of each differs depending on how far a country has come in realizing intergenerational opportunity. We benefit from newly available World Bank estimates of educational mobility that we pool with 27 behavior genetics estimates from nearly 50,000 twins. In high-inequality regimes where schooling is strongly transmitted from parent to child, the environmental channel turns out to be relatively more important. Conversely, in egalitarian systems where the influence of family background is less pronounced, genetic factors gain in explanatory power. Our results suggest that education systems that improve the mobility from parent to child are also better placed to promote individuals based on their innate endowment.


In 2019, the University of Oxford’s Department of Education celebrates the 100th year since the passing of a statute creating what was known in 1919 as the University Department for the Training of Teachers. To celebrate our centenary a year-long series of activities will be delivered to address some of the department’s top initiatives for 2019, answer some of the big questions facing education today and to reveal the advancements the department has made to the study of and research in the field of education. Join us as we mark our 100th year and discover more about our anniversary here.

To receive more event details from the Department of Education, join our mailing list.