Like Father, Like Child: Social Reproduction in the French Grandes Écoles Throughout the 20th Century

About this Session


Thu. 07.04. 16:30



Speaker: Stéphane Benveniste

Educational systems expanded over the 20th century in developed countries, and while most scholars found that expansion promoted social mobility, some argue that the top of the social hierarchy remains shielded over generations. In France, the most prestigious Grandes Écoles are elite institutions for higher education. They constitute the main pathway to top positions in the public and private sectors. The present work provides the first results on intergenerational social reproduction in these schools over more than a century. We construct an exhaustive nominative dataset of 224,264 graduate students from ten of the leading Grandes Écoles, spanning over five cohorts born between 1866 and 1995. We develop a new methodology within the literature using surnames to track lineages and find that families from ancient aristocratic lineage, Parisians, as well as descendants of graduates are highly over-represented in the top Grandes Écoles throughout the 20th century. Across cohorts, children of Grandes Écoles graduates are 72 to 154 times more likely to be admitted, and up to 450 times to the exact same school than their father. This advantage appears remarkably stable for all cohorts born since 1916 and persists across multiple generations, emphasizing the existence of a “glass floor” for the French elites.