Liberal and radical equality of opportunity

About this Session


Thu. 11.04.'24 11:50



Abstract :

Research on social inequalities is motivated by a concern for but often avoids referring to equality of opportunity. In political philosophy different conceptions of equality of opportunity have been developed but an empirical implementation of these concepts is lacking. This study distinguishes between liberal and radical equality of opportunity. Liberal equality of opportunity considers as unjust if ascribed characteristics such as gender, migration background, and social origin affect life chances but considers as just if one owns’ abilities and effort affect life chances. Contrary to that, radical equality of opportunity only considers as just the influences of factors over which the individual has full control. Importantly, this excludes, besides the impact of ascribed characteristics, the impact of the non-cognitive and cognitive skills someone is born with.

The empirical analysis measures liberal and radical inequality of opportunity using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP). I employ four outcomes to capture different dimensions of life chances: education, occupation, income, and wealth. The measures of liberal and radical inequality of opportunity in these outcomes are produced in two steps. First, the sibling correlations in education, occupation, income, and wealth are measured. These sibling correlations provide omnibus measures of the impact of family background on life chances and are therefore a good starting point to measure inequality of opportunity. However, sibling correlations do not take into account factors that vary across siblings and impact their life chances, such as birth order, migration background, and gender. Therefore, in a second step family fixed effects are employed to measure how much variance in the four measures of life chances is explained by these factors. Importantly, the measures of radical inequality (but not the measures of liberal inequality of opportunity) include abilities as a factor leading to unjust inequality in life chances. The indicators of liberal and radical inequality of opportunity sum up the variance explained at the sibling level and through the factors, which vary across siblings and divide them by the overall variance in the outcome.

The estimates of inequality of opportunity in Germany vary between 0.434 and 0.598. Radical inequality is indeed higher than liberal inequality but these differences vary across outcomes. In particular, with respect to education and occupation radical inequality is much higher than liberal inequality of opportunity. These differences are less marked for income and wealth, reflecting a smaller impact of abilities on these dimensions of life chances.