Inequality of Opportunities vs. Inequality of Outcomes: Are Western Societies All Alike?

34 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2008

See all articles by Arnaud Lefranc

Arnaud Lefranc

Universite de Cergy-Pontoise

Nicolas Pistolesi

University of Toulouse 1

Alain Trannoy

National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) - Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)

Abstract

This paper analyzes the relationship between income inequality and inequality of opportunities for income acquisition in nine developed countries during the 1990s. Equality of opportunity is defined as the situation where income distributions conditional on social origin cannot be ranked according to stochastic dominance criteria. We measure social origin by parental education and occupation and use the database built by Roemer etal. (2003). Stochastic dominance is assessed using nonparametric statistical tests. Our results indicate strong disparities in the degree of equality of opportunity across countries and a strong correlation between inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunity. The U.S. and Italy show up as the most unequal countries in terms of both outcome and opportunity. At the opposite extreme, income distributions conditional on social origin are almost the same in Scandinavian countries even before any redistributive policy. We complement the ordinal comparison by resorting to an original scalar Gini index of opportunities, which can be decomposed into a risk and a return component. In our sample, inequality of opportunity is mostly driven by differences in mean income conditional on social origin, and differences in risk compensate the return element in most countries.

Suggested Citation

Lefranc, Arnaud and Pistolesi, Nicolas and Trannoy, Alain, Inequality of Opportunities vs. Inequality of Outcomes: Are Western Societies All Alike?. Review of Income and Wealth, Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 513-546, December 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1299950 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4991.2008.00289.x

Arnaud Lefranc (Contact Author)

Universite de Cergy-Pontoise ( email )

33 Boulevard du Port
Cergy-Pontoise Cedex, Cedex 95011
France

Nicolas Pistolesi

University of Toulouse 1 ( email )

Place Anatole France
Toulouse Cedex, F-31042
France

Alain Trannoy

National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) - Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) ( email )

54, boulevard Raspail
Paris, 75006
France

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