Education and Social Mobility in the United States and Abroad
Fabian T. Pfeffer

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Michigan

Primary Discipline

The promise of social mobility is a fundamental American tenet. To understand how educational policy can help fulfill it, it is important to know how individuals from different class backgrounds draw on education in different ways. We know that educational degrees serve as the main channel through which children from different social class backgrounds are sorted into different social class destinations. In doing so, education simultaneously serves as a motor of social mobility and vehicle for the reproduction of status. We do not know, however, how this dual role of education differs across social classes and across different countries. This project takes into account both functions of education and provides a detailed assessment of education’s role in mediating social class mobility and reproduction drawing on a set of new estimation techniques and a range of nationally representative surveys. The project begins with a detailed study of the U.S. case. By uncovering for whom educational policy may have the greatest impact in fostering social mobility, the project increases the prospects for more effective targeting of U.S. educational policies. In a second step, this project compares the United States to a large number of industrialized and late-industrializing countries to assess whether the central role of education for mobility and reproduction is a hallmark of the American educational system or a characteristic of modern societies in general. Finally, by studying the influence of particular features of different national education systems, this project aims to detect a range of alternative educational arrangements that may serve to alter the relationship between education and opportunity.
About Fabian T. Pfeffer

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