Beyond the mere concern for individual differences or disparities in outcomes, which has dominated distributive concerns for many decades, the theory of equality of opportunity (Dworkin, 1981a,b; Arneson, 1989; Cohen, 1989) puts individual responsibility in the forefront when assessing situations of economic advantage and disadvantage. This theory argues that outcomes such as income level, education attainment or health status are determined by factors or variables that are beyond individual’s responsibility (so-called circumstances) and by factors for which individuals are deemed responsible (so-called effort or responsibility variables). Inequalities that are due to circumstances are deemed ethically unacceptable while those arising from effort are not considered offensive. That is, the ‘ideal’ situation or benchmark is not perfect equality per se, as in the measurement of inequality of outcome, but a distribution where effort is rewarded adequately and the effect of circumstances is compensated for, so that only disparities due to effort remain.
The first research line of our group is concerned with key issues in the measurement of inequality of opportunity (IO), both from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Building on our previous work (Ramos and Van de gaer, 2012), we shall analyse what methods are consistent with basic normative principles, propose new methods to measure IO, bridge the gap between prominent different approaches, examine empirically to what extent different approaches matter in practice, assess the effect of social and education policies on equality of opportunity and study intergenerational transmission mechanisms.
Bridging the Gap between Indirect and Norm-Based Approaches to Inequality of Opportunity Measurement
Two important approaches to the measurement of equality of opportunity are the indirect and the norm-based approaches. An important difference between these two approaches is that the first assumes anonymity while the second requires only partial anonymity, where only permutations that preserve the identity of individuals are allowed, as it is done when studying mobility. We shall explore the links between indirect and norm-based approaches by means of additive decompositions, where changes in income inequality can be expressed as changes in mobility plus an additional component.
Empirical Measurement of Inequality of Opportunity
In a recent paper, Ramos and Van de gaer (2012) present and discuss in a systematic manner the main conceptual issues involved in the measurement of IO, and the solutions that have been proposed in the literature. Furthermore, our analysis identifies and suggests several new possibilities to measuring inequality of opportunity. Using data from several European countries, we now want to test empirically the main conclusions drawn in Ramos and Van de gaer (2012). In particular we want to check whether equality of opportunity rankings change when (i) dual measures between direct and indirect approaches are used, (ii) norm-based measures are implemented, and (iii) apply the averaging procedure for the measures that use a reference value for circumstances or responsibility variables.
Education Policy and Equality of Opportunities
Education is usually thought of as an opportunity enhancing and equalising mechanism of our modern societies. Notwithstanding this, societies still show a pronounced social origin gradient, especially of higher education. In order to reduce the social gradient of education, several governments have expanded educational supply. Policy evaluation of such increase in the amount and composition of the educational supply conclude that supply expansions had only limited effect, increasing the likelihood of university enrolment from students from middle and low family background, but leaving unaffected the probability of attaining a degree (Peragine and Serlenga, 2007, Bratti, Checchi, and De Blasio, 2008, and Oppedisano, 2011). Previous policies changed mostly the public supply of education. We analyse an important expansion of private higher education in Colombia, which changed not only the supply but also the composition, to provide novel evidence on the effects of expanding (private) higher education supply on the social gradient of education.