Whether social background determines one's personal achievement is a controversial topic in sociology. Researchers have questioned the extent to which success in life and employment depends on personal effort and the extent to which it is about having the right parents. They have also questioned whether a statistically significant linkage exists between parents' occupational status and their children's occupational status and earnings. Most Russian authors have considered this type of parental influence on children only in terms of income and only within a limited period of several years. Such a narrow indicator of social status does not provide a complete picture of intergenerational relations and their outcomes, however.
In his paper 'Parental Occupational Status And Labour Market Outcomes In Russia', Alexey Bessudnov looks at how returns on higher education differ in groups of people with different social backgrounds. He presented his findings at a joint seminar organized by the HSE's Laboratory for Labour Market Studies (LLMS) and Centre for Labour Market Studies (CLMS).
In his paper, Bessudnov demonstrates that there is a statistically significant effect of parental occupational status on children's occupational status. Using aggregate data from 12 surveys conducted in Russia between 1991 and 2011, he highlights the social inequality in returns on education.
His findings confirm the hypothesis of existing linkages between the social and occupational status of parents and their children.“A statistically significant association exists between the occupational status of parents and their children, and also between parental occupational status and children's earnings,” says Bessudnov. The power of this association stays the same across the years and depends very little on the children's level of education.
Bessudnov also notes that the average level of education has increased in Russia in the post-Soviet period: the number of Russians having completed no more than nine years of schooling was 32% for men and 37% for women aged 30 to 64 in 1989 and dropped to 10% and 7%, respectively, by 2010. "The proportion of people with basic vocational training has also decreased, while [the proportion] of people with advanced vocational training and university degrees has increased," Bessudnov notes.
However, better access to advanced levels of education for all groups of people and an increased proportion of people with university degrees over the past two decades have not been accompanied by major changes in the occupational structure of the population, such as an increase in the number of high-ranking professionals in the labour market. It appears that a university degree alone does not guarantee a high-paying job. This is where parents' social and occupational status comes into play.
Bessudnov demonstrates that the effect of parental social status is the highest for children with university degrees, which helps them to climb the career ladder and get prestigious and well-paying jobs. Recently, however, the effect of parental status on children's earnings has been less significant. According to Bessudnov, this was due to stabilization in the occupational structure and in Russia’s labour market in generalduring the 2000s.
"My analysis demonstrates that higher parental social status means higher earnings for children, and this effect is more significant for men and for children of both sexes who have prestigious university degrees," Bessudnov concludes.