The perception of inequality of opportunity in Europe

Working Paper 2015-364


Does the way scholars measure inequality of opportunity correspond to how people perceive it? To answer this question we must first clarify how scholars define and measure inequality of opportunity, we will then discuss the possible mechanisms linking objective measures and subjective perception of the phenomenon, and finally we test our hypothesis by merging data coming from two sources: the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (2011) and the International Social Survey Programme data (2009). We show that individual perception of unequal opportunity is heterogeneous across countries and among individuals. Moreover, the prevailing perception of the degree of unequal opportunity in a large sample of respondents is only weakly correlated with its objective measure. We estimate a multilevel model considering both individual and country level controls to explain individual perception of unequal opportunity. Our estimates suggest that one of the most adopted measure of inequality of opportunity has no role in explaining its perception. Conversely, other country level variables and personal experiences of intergenerational social mobility are important determinants of how inequality of opportunity is perceived.

Authors: Paolo Brunori.

Keywords: Inequality of opportunity, inequality perception, intergenerational mobility, attribution theory.