The Making and Unmaking of Opportunity: Educational Mobility in 20th Century-Denmark

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This paper studies educational mobility trends over the 20th century in Denmark. While mobility was low in the first half of the century, it increased dramatically for cohorts born during the 1950s and 1960s as a result of major schooling reforms that significantly lifted the lower parts of the schooling distribution. Yet, as the educational expansion shifted from secondary education to college and university degrees for cohorts born during the 1970s and 1980s, educational mobility has been declining rapidly. Our findings suggest that mobility levels depend on how the educational distribution changes over time. Whereas lower tail compression is associated with increases in mobility, upper tail expansion is associated with decreases in mobility. We also find that the link between education and skills changes in tandem with changes to the schooling distribution. While the compression at the lower tail reduced the correlation between education and cognitive skills by 25%, the expansion at the upper tail is characterized by a strengthening of the links between education and non-cognitive skills. Furthermore, education has become increasingly predictive of outcomes such as crime, earnings, marriage rates, and mental health. Thus differences in social mobility—whether spatial or temporal—may reflect fundamental differences in underlying distributions and mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateAug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020
EventAmerican Sociological Association Annual Meeting 2020 - Virtual Engagement (Corona replacement for San Francisco venue), United States
Duration: 8 Aug 202011 Aug 2020


ConferenceAmerican Sociological Association Annual Meeting 2020
LocationVirtual Engagement (Corona replacement for San Francisco venue)
CountryUnited States
Internet address

ID: 248598902