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Orhan Torul

Associate Professor of Economics at Boğaziçi University

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Intergenerational mobility refers to the extent to which an individual’s socioeconomic outcomes are associated with the outcomes of their parents. High intergenerational mobility implies that an individual’s economic fortunes are not strongly tied to their family background. In contrast, low mobility indicates that one’s economic status is largely determined by the status of their parents. The study of intergenerational mobility sheds light on equality of opportunity and the degree to which advantages and disadvantages are passed down from generation to generation within a society.

Turkey provides an interesting case study for analyzing intergenerational mobility. Over the past century, the country has undergone rapid economic development and structural transformation. GDP per capita has increased over 20-fold and the economy has shifted from being predominantly agricultural to being led by the industrial and service sectors (Aydemir and Yazıcı 2019). Alongside this economic growth, there have been major expansions in access to education. For instance, the proportion of adults with no schooling decreased from around 75% in 1927 to under 5% by 2013 (Öztunalı and Torul 2022). However, inequality remains relatively high in Turkey, with a Gini coefficient of 0.40 that ranks atop among OECD countries (Tamkoç and Torul 2020). Examining how intergenerational linkages in socioeconomic outcomes have evolved throughout this period of rapid development provides useful insights.

The following three articles analyze intergenerational mobility in Turkey using different measures and methodologies.

Aydemir and Yazıcı (2019) focus on educational mobility, defined as the association between an individual’s educational attainment and their parents’ education level. They use data from a nationwide household survey conducted in 2014-2015 that collected information on respondents’ education levels as well as retrospective information on parental education. Their analysis yields several key findings:

  • The intergenerational regression coefficient for years of schooling is around 0.7 for both fathers and mothers. This indicates a relatively high degree of persistence in educational outcomes across generations in Turkey.

  • Educational mobility is significantly lower for women compared to men. Each additional year of mothers’ schooling is associated with 0.24 more years of schooling for daughters but only 0.13 more years for sons.

  • There is substantial regional variation in intergenerational educational mobility within Turkey. Mobility is higher in more developed provinces, suggesting development level is positively associated with mobility.

  • Persistence between grandparents’ and descendants’ education becomes insignificant once controlling for parents’ education, implying no direct grandparental effects.

Öztunalı and Torul (2022) also analyze educational mobility, yet with a time-series perspective using a different data source – the Turkish Statistical Institute’s Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantages Module in 2010. This dataset has information on individuals’ education level as well as their fathers’ education. The authors make use of retrospective education categories in addition to years of schooling. Their key findings include:

  • Turkey has low intergenerational educational mobility compared to most developed countries based on regression and correlation coefficients. For instance, Turkey’s year’s of schooling correlation estimate of 0.49 is comparable to that of Hungary, Austria and Italy.

  • Educational mobility displayed a U-shaped pattern over cohorts born between 1951-1985. This means mobility improved for early cohorts as the education levels of those with uneducated fathers increased faster than those with more educated fathers. However, mobility worsened again for recent cohorts as the probability of obtaining a university degree increased much more for those with highly educated fathers.

  • Decompositions reveal persistence was driven largely by inequality in access to tertiary education. For instance, over 80% of those with a university graduate father also obtained a university degree.

  • Urban residents displayed higher mobility than rural residents, and males displayed higher mobility than females. But the contributions of location and gender remained stable over time.

Demirtaş and Torul (2023) shift the focus to intergenerational income mobility. They estimate the intergenerational earnings elasticity, which measures the percent change in a child’s earnings associated with a 1 percent change in their parents’ earnings. Using data from SILC 2005-2017 and the two-sample two-stage least squares (TS2SLS) methodology, they obtain several novel results:

  • The earnings elasticity between fathers and sons is around 0.5. This level of persistence places Turkey similarly to the US and UK, which have the lowest mobility among developed countries.

  • For fathers and daughters, the earnings elasticity is approximately 1, twice as high as for father-son pairs. This likely reflects the substantial self-selection of women into employment. Estimates using household income are more comparable across genders.

  • Household income elasticities are around 0.8 for both sons and daughters, exceeding individual earnings elasticities for males but not females. In addition to the role of assortative mating, this is a mechanical result due to the addition of non-labor income.

  • There is a modest decline in mobility across birth cohorts, as evidenced by increasing earnings elasticities over time. Rank-based measures and transition matrices also indicate declining mobility.

  • Mobility is weakest at the top and bottom of the income distribution, with the richest and poorest quintiles displaying the greatest persistence levels across generations.

Taken together, these three studies demonstrate that intergenerational mobility in Turkey is relatively low from an international perspective. This is true for both educational mobility and income mobility. The level of regional development and gender are two factors that generate significant heterogeneity in mobility within Turkey. But location and gender contribute relatively stable shares over time to economy-wide mobility. The expansion of education has not corresponded with steadily increasing mobility across cohorts. While mobility improved initially, it has worsened for recent cohorts as advantages at the tertiary level have become more entrenched. From a policy perspective, these findings highlight that Turkey’s education system does not currently provide equality of opportunity or facilitate social mobility across generations. As the country continues developing, targeted policies may be warranted to strengthen intergenerational mobility and equalize economic opportunities.