Alessandro Topetta
Jason Sockin
Todd Schoellman
Paolo Martellini
UCL Policy Lab
Natalia Ramondo
Javier Cravino
Vanessa Alviarez
Natalia Ramondo
Javier Cravino
Vanessa Alviarez
Hugo Reis
Pedro Carneiro
Raul Santaeulalia-Llopis
Diego Restuccia
Chaoran Chen
Brad J. Hershbein
Claudia Macaluso
Chen Yeh
Xuan Tam
Xin Tang
Marina M. Tavares
Adrian Peralta-Alva
Carlos Carillo-Tudela
Felix Koenig
Joze Sambt
Ronald Lee
James Sefton
David McCarthy
Bledi Taska
Carter Braxton
Alp Simsek
Plamen T. Nenov
Gabriel Chodorow-Reich
Virgiliu Midrigan
Corina Boar
Sauro Mocetti
Guglielmo Barone
Steven J. Davis
Nicholas Bloom
José María Barrero
Thomas Sampson
Adrien Matray
Natalie Bau
Darryl Koehler
Laurence J. Kotlikoff
Alan J. Auerbach
Irina Popova
Alexander Ludwig
Dirk Krueger
Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln
Taylor Jaworski
Walker Hanlon
Ludo Visschers
Carlos Carillo-Tudela
Henrik Kleven
Kristian Jakobsen
Katrine Marie Jakobsen
Alessandro Guarnieri
Tanguy van Ypersele
Fabien Petit
Cecilia García-Peñalosa
Yonatan Berman
Nina Weber
Julian Limberg
David Hope
Pedro Tremacoldi-Rossi
Tatiana Mocanu
Marco Ranaldi
Silvia Vannutelli
Raymond Fisman
John Voorheis
Reed Walker
Janet Currie
Roel Dom
Marcos Vera-Hernández
Emla Fitzsimons
José V. Rodríguez Mora
Tomasa Rodrigo
Álvaro Ortiz
Stephen Hansen
Vasco Carvalho
Gergely Buda
Gabriel Zucman
Anders Jensen
Matthew Fisher-Post
José-Alberto Guerra
Myra Mohnen
Christopher Timmins
Ignacio Sarmiento-Barbieri
Peter Christensen
Linda Wu
Gaurav Khatri
Julián Costas-Fernández
Eleonora Patacchini
Jorgen Harris
Marco Battaglini
Ricardo Fernholz
Alberto Bisin
Jess Benhabib

Parental investments and socio-economic gradients in learning across european countries

What is this research about and why did you do it?

We study how socio-economic status (SES) gradients in learning outcomes have evolved for over 20 years in Europe and investigate some of its possible determinants. Family background has been shown to be a strong determinant of an individual’s educational achievement and labour market success. Large SES gradients in test scores emerge early and persist, and account for a large fraction of the intergenerational transmission of earnings. Understanding the roots of intergenerational persistence in socio-economic status can help us design policies to break this transmission.

How did you answer this question?

We use the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)datasets, designed to assess students' proficiency in mathematics, reading and science. PISA scores are explicitly designed to allow cross-country and temporal comparisons, enabling us to measure SES gradients in test scores, which are comparable across countries and over time. We merge the longitudinal dataset of SES gradients in test scores we have constructed for 8 cohort (2000-2022)in multiple European countries with various data sources. These sources include socioeconomic, institutional, and educational system variables.  

What did you find?

In the last 20 years in Europe, the SES gradients in test scores have generally remained stable, with some increases in Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. Surprisingly, SES gradients in test scores and parental investments are as high in Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) as they are in most other European countries. When studying some of its possible determinants, we do not find a relationship between SES gradients in learning outcomes and intra and inter-generational inequality(Corak, 2013). Instead, we uncover a robust relationship between the intergenerational transmission of learning and the SES gradients in parental investment.

Note. The heat maps present the estimates of intergenerational mobility in learning for each country and cohort. Relative mobility is the differences in ranks of math test scores between children, whose mothers have different levels of schooling. Upward mobility is the average rank of math test score of children, whose the mother does not have upper secondary. The rank is computed at the European level. Green areas are the most mobile and red areas are the least mobile. The intervals are the same for each year.

What implications does this have for the study (research and teaching) of wealth concentration or economic inequality?

These findings highlight that the family’s overwhelming influence on children’s learning may severely dampen the role of social policy in promoting social mobility through skills. As emphasized in Landerso and Heckman (2017, 2022), even if other countries adopt similar education and social policies to those of the Nordic countries, they may not see reductions in socio-economic skill disparities among adolescents. High social mobility in these countries may come primarily from taxes and transfers in adulthood.

What are the next steps in your agenda?

We are interested in understanding the determinants of SES gradients in learning and parental investment, expanding the analysis to other countries, and exploiting new data sources. For example, we have expanded the analysis to2022 PISA-wave, which took place after COVID-19. We still found that Nordic countries experienced a widening in their SES gradients in test scores and a strong correlation with SES gradients in parental investment.


Carneiro, P. M., Reis, H., & Toppeta, A.(2024). 'Parental Investments and Socio-Economic Gradients in Learning Across European Countries'. IZA DP No. 16785.

About the authors

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