Published on Arab Voices

Social mobility in Egypt: it helps to have the right parents

Egyptians mark the second anniversary of their 2011 revolution on January 25. The revolution, which was in part fueled by unmet aspirations for economic mobility, highlighted the mass discontent of young people unable to find jobs that matched their expectations. The youth entering the labor force is more educated than in the past (see my earlier post), but job opportunities have been shrinking leading to intense competition for the few good jobs that are on offer and growing concerns over equity. The chances of obtaining a job of desired quality are perceived to be influenced by circumstances over which young labor market aspirants have no control, such as gender, birthplace, political affiliations, family wealth, and parental education and occupational status.

World Bank | Arne HoelA recently completed World Bank study looked at the extent of inequality of opportunity among young people (ages 15-29) in the Egyptian labor market. The study examined several aspects of the job market, including the changes in access to jobs and quality of jobs over time; the main circumstances beyond the control of a young labor market aspirant; and the effects of networks of families and relatives in obtaining a job of desired quality. We know that job seekers in Egypt prefer public sector employment so we looked at categories of those desirable characteristics including public sector employment with generous benefits; jobs that offer higher wages; jobs that provide social security benefits; and jobs that demand skills acquired through school or training.  The study relied on labor market survey data from 1998, 2006, and 2009 (see the report for details).

In this and subsequent posts, I would like to share some of the insights gained from this work. Let me focus today on the influence of parental occupations -- a circumstance beyond the control of a daughter or a son -- on their children’s occupational choices upon entering the labor market. And what are the implications for intergenerational mobility?


It is instructive to first look at the trends in the occupational categories in Egypt. Figure 1 shows that the share of white-collar jobs, those requiring skills and specializations, shrank between 1998 and 2006, while the reverse is true for the less desirable categories, i.e., the blue-/pink-collar and agricultural or elementary occupations. While a larger share of female than male workers tend to engage in white-collar jobs, the decline of female employment in white-collar jobs was far greater than for their male counterparts. In general, a larger share of young people engages in blue-/pink-collar or elementary occupations than older workers. For example, in 2006, only 20 percent of those aged 20-29 held white collar jobs, compared to 37 percent for those 30 and older.

Among Egypt’s young labor market aspirants, more than one in two stay in the same occupations as their parents (Figure 2). The predictive power of a father’s occupation on a son’s or daughter’s occupation has increased between 1998 and 2006. The labor market fates of young people in Egypt have become more bound up in their family origins, suggesting that opportunities have become more limited over the last decade. A son or a daughter of parents in agricultural or elementary occupations has less reason in 2006 than in 1998 to believe he or she can aspire to a better job than her or his father. A son of a father with a blue-/pink-collar and agricultural or elementary occupations had, respectively, only a 20 percent and 15 percent chance of obtaining a white-collar job in 1998. By 2006, that had shrunk to 18 percent and 11 percent respectively. On the other hand, young males with a father in a white-collar job did not experience any decline in the probability of achieving the same occupational status as their father. However, in 2006, more than half of all young women with fathers in agricultural or elementary occupations (54 percent) stayed in the same employment category as their fathers, an appreciable worsening from just 24 percent in 1998.

The study shows that it helps if you have the “right” parent. Underscoring the inequality of opportunity in the Egyptian labor market, the type of job a young person ends up with is heavily influenced by the occupations of their parents. Young people with fathers in white-collar occupations are four times more likely to obtain a white-collar job as those with fathers in agricultural or elementary occupations. In 2006, 44 percent of young men and 75% of young women born to parents with white-collar occupations remained in the same occupational status. This is in contrast to the 42 percent of young men and 54 percent of young women with parents in agricultural or elementary occupations who remain in the same occupational status. While young women, regardless of their father’s specific occupation, saw their odds of getting a white-collar job decline, those with fathers in agricultural or elementary occupations had a much greater decline in their social mobility, widening their already sizable disadvantage. 



Lire Ersado

Human Development Practice Leader for Pakistan

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