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ERC

EQUALIZE Report Summary

Project ID: 637768
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EQUALIZE (Equalizing or disequalizing? Opposing socio-demographic determinants of the spatial distribution of welfare.)

Reporting period: 2015-05-01 to 2016-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Documenting global trends in welfare distributions, scholars from different fields have recently identified an overall macro-level convergence between countries during the last decades in a significant number of socio-economic and demographic variables or domains like income, education or health (including maternal mortality, infant survival or life expectancy). In tandem with these major changes at the macro level, researchers have also pinpointed an opposing micro level trend towards increasing economic inequality within countries –a phenomenon that has been exacerbated after the onset of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. If these economic trends are to continue over time we might be on the verge of a ‘convergence towards divergence’ scenario in which the economic status of individuals would be less likely to be driven by the country where they were born and more by their ability to secure a profitable job in the increasingly globalized and competitive knowledge-based economy. In this context, many countries of the world are expected to face increasingly higher risks of social exclusion and poverty within their national boundaries. The extent to which these prospects of social disadvantage are also reproduced at sub-national levels generating unbalanced territorial distributions remains an open question of utmost importance for social planners and academics alike.

In an attempt to explain these recent trends, there has been particular interest among social scientists in how demographic processes, and specially patterns of family formation and living arrangements (which determine how individuals’ income and other endowments are pooled into a family or household unit), influence and are influenced by the level and structure of inequality, poverty and polarization in contemporary societies for present and future generations. The ways in which individuals decide to form families and co-reside with others might generate a certain allocation of valuable attributes that can lead to completely different welfare outcomes and can make a huge difference when individuals have to cope with adverse economic shocks like earnings reduction, decreasing purchasing capacity, job instability or widespread unemployment. In this respect, there is growing concern among scholars regarding the implications that phenomena like the weakening of family ties, increasing homogamy patterns, the gradual appearance of high-skilled dual-earner couples in tandem with increases in single parenthood and divorce might have in terms of growing social distance between social strata and the emergence of vulnerable groups like individuals living in jobless households. According to these and many other researchers, current trends in assortative mating, single parenthood and living arrangements are contributing to generate increasingly unequal, impoverished and polarized societies between those who are multiply advantaged and those who are multiply deprived.

In contrast, prospects look more promising when examining the global trends in education expansion. The last decades have been characterized by an impressive spread of education that has accelerated over time and that is estimated to continue for a long time to come. Simultaneously, we are recently witnessing the emergence of a “global first” phenomenon: the closing and reversal of the gender gap in education attainment. For the first time in history, in many high- and middle-income countries, younger women are attaining higher levels of education than men, and the same trend is likely to occur in other countries as well in the coming decades. The gradual and almost universal outpacing of women over men in educational attainment is a truly outstanding achievement that further reinforces the progressive distributive benefits of education expansion by reducing the share of highly-skilled and educated couples (i.e.: the group that threatens to race ahead of the rest) that can be potentially formed. These changes are bound to have major, yet unpredictable, implications on assortative mating patterns and the distribution of welfare that will be mediated by the corresponding returns to education (e.g.: employment and earnings). Other factors kept constant, it is plausible to expect that expanding education trends that increasingly benefit women might run counter to the disequalizing, impoverishing and polarizing trends feared by many: as more and more people get higher education and as women continue to outnumber men in the highest educational categories, it becomes increasingly unlikely that societies break apart in two opposing and gradually distant poles.

In a nutshell, while family formation and living arrangement patterns are believed to enhance inequality, poverty, polarization and jobless households, the gender-specific education expansion trends observed during the last decades are expected to reduce the social divide by expanding education for all – especially for women. Investigating the extent to which these two opposing forces occur and which of them is more influential in shaping the distribution of welfare across individuals in high- and middle-income countries is the main goal of this project. In doing so, we are particularly interested in assessing whether those forces contribute to generate welfare distributions that are socially and territorially balanced or, on the contrary, they tend to concentrate social disadvantage in certain geographical locations.

The main objectives of this project can thus be summarized as follows.

1. Document the inter- and intra-countries distributions of key economic and non-economic welfare domains (i.e.: income, education and health) and explore the existing associations between them. Document as well the patterns of family formation, living arrangements, jobless households and gender-specific education expansion between and within countries.

2. Assess the relationship between family formation processes, living arrangements and gendered patterns of education expansion on the one hand and the spatial distribution of welfare and jobless households on the other.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The first months of the project have been devoted to the following tasks.

1. Set-up and recruiting of the research team

We have publicized the opening of a post-doc position via several channels (basically the announcements of the position in academic institutions, like the European Association of Population Studies (EAPS), the Population Association of America (PAA) and the Society for the Study of Economic Inequality (ECINEQ)). In total, 40 candidates applied for the position.

2. Elaboration of research papers

During this reporting period, the team members have been elaborating the following research articles.

Permanyer, I. (2015), “The impact of population and economic growth on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”.
Permanyer, I. (2016), “Two-stage multidimensional poverty measurement”.
Permanyer, I. (2016), “Benchmark inequality measures”.
Permanyer, I. (2016), “A new approach to length of life inequality measurement”.
Permanyer, I., Boertien, D., Lopez, J. and Turu, A. (2016), “Global trends in educational inequality”.
Permanyer, I. and Boertien, D. (2016), “A century of change in global educational inequality between and among genders”.

3. Publication of research papers

The following papers, authored by the research team members, have been published during the reported period.

- Permanyer, I. (2015) “Why call it ‘equality’ when it should be ‘achievement’? A proposal to un-correct the ‘corrected gender gaps’ in the EU Gender Equality Index”, Journal of European Social Policy 25(4): 414 – 430.
- Permanyer, I., García, J., Esteve, A. and McCaa, R. (2015) “Human Development Index-like Small Area Estimates for Africa compute from IPUMS-International integrated census microdata”, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 16(2): 245 – 271
- Permanyer, I. (2015) “Measuring achievement and shortfall improvements in a consistent way”, Review of Income and Wealth (DOI: 10.1111/roiw.12194).
- Permanyer, I. (2016) “Book review of Multidimensional Poverty Measurement and Analysis”, Journal of Economic Inequality, 14(3):353-356.
- Liu, C., Esteve, A. and Treviño, R. (2017) “Female-Headed Households and Living Conditions in Latin America”, World Development (DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.10.008).

4. Attending conferences, workshops and seminars

During the reported period the team members have made more than 30 presentations of the project's preliminary findings in international conferences, workshops and academic events all over the world.

5. Students mentoring and diffusion activities

During this reporting period, different team members have participated in the thesis supervision of 14 PhD students. Among them, three have already obtained their PhDs.

Results of the project.

In a nutshell, the project aims at investigating the relationship between family formation dynamics, changing education structures and the distribution of pecuniary and non-pecuniary dimensions of well-being. Our research lines can be grouped in three broad areas: (i) Measuring the impact of population growth on countries’ well-being; (ii) Investigating how the process of education expansion that has swept the world during the last decades has unequally benefited some countries and groups (e.g. women) more than others; and (iii) Explore the influence of educational marital homogamy on marriage market polarization from a comparative perspective.

Our preliminary findings in these three areas can be briefly summarized as follows.

(i) We have investigated the impact that population growth has had on different quality of life domains belonging to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework. Our empirical findings suggest that larger countries have typically been more successful than smaller ones in achieving the different MDGs. The impact of overall population growth is, however, quite unclear: depending on the model specification we are dealing with we either obtain positive or negative effects that very often are not statistically significant. Yet, when we substitute overall population growth by other demographic variables that are more directly related to the problem at hand (e.g. focus on the school aged population when studying the evolution of school enrolment rates) our findings are sharper and usually suggest a negative relationship between population growth and quality of life improvement. It is likely that specifications focusing on overall population only hide relevant but offsetting impacts, something that muddies the waters and generates overly parsimonious models. Our results suggest that even if population growth has ceased to arise the worries it used to back in the 60s and 70s (when it was commonly referred to as ‘the population problem’), it continues to pose formidable challenges that cannot be ignored to those fast growing countries that aim to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants.

(ii) Over the last few years, two important phenomena have attracted the attention of social scientists: the uneven global distribution of educational attainment, and the closing and reversal of the gender gap in educational attainment in favor of women. While it seems clear that these two phenomena are interrelated with one another, no previous study has attempted to investigate and flesh out the nature of that relationship. The main aim of this research strand is to bridge this gap by putting together the different types of inequalities into a coherent whole. Our findings suggest that (a) overall educational inequality, as well as inequality among women, have risen together with increasing gender equality, but a decline in both types of inequality can be observed at higher levels of gender equality; and (b) the educational advantage of women over men is gradually becoming an important source contributing to global educational inequality.

(iii) We have examined patterns of assortative mating to investigate the extent to which the expansion of college education, the force of homogamy and the gender gap in education are contributing to the increasing levels of polarization between college- and non-college-educated populations in the marriage market. We have assembled census and survey microdata from 118 countries and 258 samples from 1960 to 2011 that represent 98% of the world’s population. We have developed a simple but effective decomposition model that neatly assesses the impact of these three factors on polarization levels. The results show that marriage market polarization has risen worldwide, and this rise is overwhelmingly driven by the expansion of college education. The force of homogamy and the gender gap in education play limited roles in determining marriage market polarization.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

This research project can have a strong international impact as it can yield a fuller understanding of different topics of major academic and policy concern with obvious implications for the success of an “EU Horizon 2020 Growth strategy” that aims to be inclusive among all social strata and foster territorial cohesion. The results generated by the project will be useful for the design and evaluation of public policy aimed at combating social exclusion, vulnerability and poverty – not only in the EU but in other regions of the world as well. In addition, they can stimulate the creation of new lines of research (e.g.: use the data and methodology presented here to explore how other socio-demographic factors like childbearing or population ageing are related to the spatial patterns of disadvantage). We estimate that the exploration of those new lines of research will be carried out by other scholars in rather unpredictable ways during a period that will span beyond the actual duration of the project.

As of now the project is still at its initial stages, so most of its findings are highly preliminary. Currently, they are still drafts in their working paper versions. In the next few months they should be improved and submitted for publication in high-impact journals. In the meantime, they have been accepted in renowned international conferences, like the 2017 Population Association of America Meeting.
Record Number: 195233 / Last updated on: 2017-02-23
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