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Understanding the Drivers of Intergenerational Educational Mobility in Developing Countries

October 26, 2021




  • The world has experienced rising inequality over the last few decades. When rising inequality is balanced by improvements in the intergenerational mobility of disadvantaged children, it may not immediately raise an alarm. However, the available evidence indicates that intergenerational relative mobility—the extent to which a person’s life chances are determined by that of her parents—is stagnant or even getting worse. These dismal prospects for economic mobility have far-reaching implications for future economic development, social cohesion, and political stability. Policies and investments that can address the roots of economic immobility so that the talents and efforts of children are recognized and rewarded regardless of their parents’ socio-economic status are more needed than ever.

    In this Policy Research Talk, World Bank economist Forhad Shilpi will focus on intergenerational mobility in education in developing countries. In the first half of the talk, she will discuss methodological and conceptual issues, starting with the suitability of widely used measures of intergenerational mobility in the face of significant data limitations. To understand what policies can be adopted to address low mobility, one needs to know what drives the strong persistence between the economic status of children and parents. Shilpi will present a simple conceptual framework to highlight how the interaction between markets, schools, parents, social norms, and public policies results in intergenerational persistence.

    In the second half of the talk, Shilpi will present empirical evidence from Indonesia and India that highlights the role of complementarities between the various factors in children’s educational achievements. The study on Indonesia will present evidence on how education policy affects absolute and relative mobility in rural and urban areas, with a focus on understanding whether school quality is a substitute for or complement to parental investments. The study on India will explore the extent to which social norms and attitudes, parental nonfinancial inputs, and school environment explain the gender differences in intergenerational persistence.

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    Forhad Shilpi (Speaker)

    Senior Economist

    Forhad Shilpi is a Senior Economist in the Sustainability and Infrastructure Team of the Development Research Group. Her current research focuses on the impacts of infrastructure and communication on rural-urban transformation, the role of domestic market institutions in the transmission of international price signals, and intergenerational mobility in developing countries. Her research has been published in leading development and economics journals such as Economic Journal, Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Human Resources, Canadian Journal of Economics, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics and Economic Development and Cultural Change.


    Halsey Rogers (Discussant)

    Lead Economist, Education Global Practice

    Halsey Rogers is Lead Economist with the World Bank’s Education Global Practice and served as Co-Director of the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. He now helps lead initiatives that advance the WDR vision, including the global Learning Poverty estimates and the Global Education Policy Dashboard. In the past, he represented the Bank in SDG negotiations on education, led the Bank’s global teacher-policy research, and co-authored the Bank’s Education Strategy 2020: Learning for All. Rogers has published widely in peer-reviewed journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal of Economic Perspectives, and has advised governments in every region of the world.


    Deon Filmer (Chair)

    Director of Research

    Deon Filmer is Director of the Research Group at the World Bank. He has previously served as Acting Research Manager in the Research Group, Co-Director of the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, and Lead Economist in the Human Development department of the Africa Region of the World Bank. He works on issues of human capital and skills, service delivery, and the impact of policies and programs to improve human development outcomes—with research spanning the areas of education, health, social protection, and poverty and inequality. He has published widely in refereed journals, including studies of the impact of demand-side programs on schooling and learning; the roles of poverty, gender, orphanhood, and disability in explaining education inequalities; and the determinants of effective service delivery.

  • The monthly Policy Research Talks showcase the latest findings of the World Bank’s research department, challenge and contribute to the institution’s intellectual climate, and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practice. These talks facilitate a dialogue between researchers and operational staff and inform World Bank operations both globally and within partner countries. Read More »