The Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) hosts a recurring monthly seminar in Madrid focused on the critical domains of inequality and social demography. This seminar serves as a platform for the convergence of international researchers dedicated to advancing knowledge in these pivotal fields. Through this series, participants engage with ongoing research projects, explore contemporary trends, and analyse the intricate dynamics shaping societal structures globally. Esteemed scholars from diverse backgrounds present their work, fostering insightful discussions and collaborations among attendees. The seminar, rooted in academic rigour and intellectual exchange, aims to provide an invaluable space for interdisciplinary dialogue, enhancing our understanding of the multifaceted dimensions of inequality and its interplay with social demography.


Location: Centro Asociado Gregorio Marañón. Calle de Argumosa, 3, 28012, Madrid

Organizer: Fabrizio Bernardi

Assistants: Manuel T. Valdés, Mar C. Espadafor

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Disentangling the Drivers of Grading Bias: Evidence from a Natural Experiment”

Asta Breinholt, Anders Hjorth-Trolle & Mikkel Büchler Henriksen 

Grades are important signals to students about future educational choices. Previous studies find negative grading bias against oys, racialized minority students and low-SES students suggesting that these student groups receive signals about lower academic potential than merited. According to theories on discrimination, grading bias may stem from taste-based discrimination, statistical discrimination, and perceived-behavior discrimination (a type of differential impact discrimination). In this study, we test which of these types of discrimination leads to grading bias by exploiting a natural experiment. In 2010, Denmark introduced computer-based, adaptive national testing. Statistical discrimination theory suggests that this information can decrease grading bias. Moreover, we exploit variation in oral and written assessment to distinguish between taste-based and perceived-behavior discrimination. We rely on data from the Danish administrative registers in the years 2007-2014. The introduction of the national tests did not reduce grading disparities for any of these groups. This result and supporting sensitivity checks suggest that teacher bias is not due to statistical discrimination. For boys, the grading disparities is largest in written assessments, while for students with migrant background and student of non-university educated parents grading disparities are equally large in written and oral assessments. Hence, we conclude that teacher bias against boys stems from teachers’ perception of boys behavior, while teacher bias against students with migrant background and student of non-university educated parents is taste-based discrimination. 

Upcoming events!

On November 22, Berkay Ozcan will visit us at Centro Asociado Gregorio Marañón to talk about the concentration of children in high-income households across developed countries. What does it mean for inequality and poverty? If you want to know, join us next Wednesday!

Fall Semester 2023/2024

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Berkay Ozcan (London School of Economics)

The Concentration of Children and its Consequence for Inequality and Poverty

We explore a seldom-discussed phenomenon prevalent in high-income countries: the increasing concentration of children within households situated at the upper parts of the income distribution, as measured by market household incomes. Drawing upon cross-national microdata encompassing approximately 25 countries from the Luxembourg Income Studies, our analysis spans the past three decades, revealing a significant surge in the concentration of children in such households across most nations. Yet, noteworthy disparities in these trends emerge, particularly when considering disposable income. We shed light on the far-reaching implications of these findings, notably the growing significance of equivalence scale adjustments, and their consequential impact on estimates of household income inequality and child poverty. Lastly, we delve into the factors underlying this concentration phenomenon and its broader implications.


Alessandro Ferrara (Freie University / Berlin Social Science Center, WZB)

Immigrant-native differences in perinatal health: measuring the role of immigrant selectivity in Spain

The children of immigrants exhibit better early health than the children of natives despite their lower socioeconomic status. This Immigrant Paradox is found in several countries including Spain, where the children of immigrants are less likely to be born with a Low Birth Weight (LBW). However, unlike other countries, the Immigrant Paradox does not uniformly apply to all migrant groups (e.g., Sub-Saharan immigrants) or all birth outcomes (such as macrosomia and pre/post-term births) in the Spanish context. Little is known about the causes of the migrant advantage in perinatal health, and particularly of the distinctive patterns observed in Spain. In this paper, we address a commonly-cited explanation, which is the role of pre-migration selectivity. Using 2007-2019 Spanish vital statistics and the Barro-Lee (2013) dataset on educational distributions we investigate the role of immigrant parents’ educational selectivity in explaining immigrant-native gaps in birth outcomes. Consistent with the selectivity hypothesis, we find that immigrants’ educational selectivity explains a substantial part of their lower risk of delivering LBW children, with results varying across immigrants’ absolute levels of education and national origin. However, immigrants’ educational selectivity is not strongly associated with delivering HBW children or the delivery term, leaving several immigrant-native gaps in Spain unexplained.

Joint sessions ECHO-CSIC

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Cathal McCrory (Trinity College Dublin)

Socio-economic position under the microscope

Individuals of lower socio-economic position (SEP) develop diseases earlier and die earlier on average compared with their more advantaged counterparts. They will spend a larger proportion of their fewer years in illness and disability. The damaging effects of low SEP can be seen in every major system of the body which suggests that there may be common biological mechanism(s) underlying the increased risk of disease. This talk will explore candidate mechanisms through which SEP gets transduced at a more fundamental cellular and molecular level to accelerate biological ageing of the socially disadvantaged using a plethora of biological ageing metrics including allostatic load, telomeres, and the epigenetic clocks. Drawing upon data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), it will address issues such as whether the timing of deprivation matters, whether the duration of deprivation matters, and whether a change in socio-economic circumstances can ameliorate the impact of early deprivation on the biological ageing signature.


Bertie Lumey (Columbia University)

Natural experiments to study the impact of early life shocks on long term health

The use of natural experiments has a long tradition in epidemiology and is now increasingly being advocated in economics. While still presenting methodological challenges, natural experiments can have significant advantages over traditional observational studies as differences in treatment arising from the natural experiment can be more specifically defined. Studies of early famine shocks and long-term health offer special opportunities to study potential impacts because in some settings the timing and intensity of the exposure together with specific health outcomes can be defined with some accuracy. This will be illustrated by work on the Ukraine Holomodor famine in 1932-34, the Dutch Hunger Winter famine in 1944-45, and the China Great Leap Forward famine in 1959-61. These famines differed widely in terms of political background, intensity, and duration but from currently available information point to a similar impact on selected long term health outcomes.


Steven Haas (Pennsylvania State University)

Multimorbidity Trajectories across Aging European Cohorts

Rising rates of multimorbidity (the presence of two or more chronic diseases) among older adults is among the most salient population health trends in high-income contexts. Combined with population aging, the growth in multimorbidity has important implications for individuals, caregivers, and health care systems. In addition, recent research, mostly focused on the US, has found that more recent cohorts of older adults are experiencing worse health than their peers from earlier cohorts did at equivalent ages. This includes higher levels of mortality and higher rates of functional limitation and multimorbidity. The present study expands on this growing literature utilizing data from the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA) and the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to examine inter-cohort trends in multimorbidity in England and Europe.

Spring Semester 2022/2023

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Florian Hertel (Europa-Universität Flensburg)

All Black and White? Poverty risks in Europe at the intersections of class, race and gender

I present a study of intersectional inequalities by race, gender and occupational position in 10 West European countries. The question addressed is whether it is possible to (1) identify intersectional locations with regard to race and gender in the European occupational structure and (2) whether poverty risks differ between individuals in these positions. To study these questions, I combined data from two surveys of white and Black Europeans for 10 West European countries. In both empirical analyses, I first study bivariate associations before studying intersectional group differences. Intersectional occupational differences are studied with loglinear models, whereas differential poverty risks are described based on regressions to account for sociodemographic differences between groups. The results yield that the European social structure is characterized by different intersectional locations in which occupational positions and status group membership most frequently coincide. Poverty risks, furthermore, are not only differentially distributed between racialized groups but differ in intersectional locations also between racialized and genderized groups. In any case, I find evidence for a racialized and genderized hierarchy within the studied European countries.


Tina Baier (University of Oslo)

Parental Separation and Children’s Genetic Influences on Education

Whether the family context matters for genetic influences on children’s educational attainment remains an open question. Previous research mainly considers parents’ socio-economic standing and overlooks a key dimension of social stratification: childhood family structure. We focus on the extent that parental separation during childhood affects children’s chances to realize genetic influences on educational attainment. This study draws on the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to estimate the association between education polygenic scores and educational attainment of adults who experienced a parental separation before age 16 compared to adults who lived continuously with both parents. We find that genetic effects are smaller for adults whose parents separated compared to adults whose parents remained coupled. Moreover, additional analysis directed at the mechanisms provided no evidence that the negative impact of parental separation was attributable to adverse socioeconomic conditions during childhood or the absence of a parent. In conclusion, our findings highlight that distinct inner-familial conditions linked to parental separation affect children’s chances to tap their genetic potential for education.


Daniela Urbina (University of Oxford)

Mass Schooling, Gender, and Union Formation: Evidence from Latin America

The reduction of gender gaps in education has transformed union formation processes across the world. This paper focuses on the case of Bolivia and Colombia, which have experienced some of the greatest growth rates in women’s education across the Global South. In particular, I examine how increases in female schooling have changed both marriage entry and assortative mating. To this end, I combine DHS surveys and national censuses and rely on survival models and log-linear analyses. Results show that as gender gaps were reduced, gender asymmetries in union formation prevailed. Indeed, highly educated women were increasingly less likely to get married in all countries, hypergamous couples augmented in Bolivia and hypergamy propensities persisted in both countries.


Carlos J. Gil-Hernández (Joint Research Center – European Comission)

Making Up for `Unlucky´ Genetics for (Non)Cognitive Skills? A Gene-Environment Interaction Study on Educational Inequality

It is a stylised fact that educational inequality persists over generations hindering equal opportunity, but identifying early life causal mechanisms explaining this process is still challenging. The compensatory advantage hypothesis predicts that negative traits or events for socioeconomic status (SES) attainment are hardly detrimental for high-SES children. However, previous evidence on genetic endowments associated with educational achievement is particularly scarce. Alternatively, the Scarr-Rowe hypothesis posits that enriched social environments allow individuals to express their full genetic potential, yet findings are mixed. This article contributes by testing whether high-SES families compensate for a child’s `bad luck´ in the genetic lottery to avoid downward social mobility. Building on a pre-registered research design and a genotyped panel of twins, siblings, and parents from the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR), we generate polygenic indexes (PGI) for both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Then, we regress different educational outcomes from childhood to adulthood—grades in mathematics and reading (age 7-10), high-stakes standardised test scores (age 12), track choice at secondary school (age 12-18), and adult educational attainment (age ≥ 25)—on both PGI by parental SES to estimate gene-environment interactions (G×E). We combine between- and within-family empirical strategies to account for diverse sources of confounding and prevent gene-environment correlations. We report two main findings: First, between-family models show that, for high-SES children, PGI for cognitive and non-cognitive skills are less predictive of test scores, track choice, and adult educational attainment than low-SES peers, supporting a negative G×E interaction or the compensatory hypothesis. Second, family fixed-effects analyses, exploiting siblings’ random segregation of alleles and controlling for all shared family circumstances, only confirm these patterns for cognitive PGI, test scores and tracking. Finally, we discuss our findings’ implications for the interdisciplinary literature on intergenerational social mobility and sociogenomics.


Carlo Barone (Science Po)

Information, behavioral barriers and educational inequality: evidence from three field experiments

In this presentation, the author will discuss three randomized trials of educational interventions concerning social inequalities in access to higher education, upper secondary track choice, and early skill development. The focus is on the policy implications of these studies as well as on their theoretical implications concerning debates on bounded rationality.

Fall Semester 2022/2023

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Mar C. Espadafor (European University Institute / University of Turku)

Addressing the Effect of Parental Education on children’s attainment. New evidence from a natural experiment using the Spanish 1970 education reform

The association between parental education and children’s educational outcomes has been long studied. However, standard cross-sectional analyses often present endogeneity problems and fail to explore which parental characteristics drive these processes. In this article, we focus on the role of parental education. We examine if changes in parental education are (1) related, in the long term, to children’s educational attainment and if (2) they have implications for the overall transmission of educational (dis)advantages. To do so, we exploit a natural experiment in Spain. We leverage an exogenous increase in the educational attainment of the parental generation driven by the 1970 Spanish Educational reform, which extended the compulsory school age. Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and an instrumental variable design, we estimate the causal effect of parental education on children’s educational attainment. Preliminary results suggest that exogenous increases in educational attainment in the parent generation also translate into better educational outcomes for future generations. Conversely, these changes do not translate into a rise in the inter-generational transmission of educational inequalities across families


Marco Cozzani (University of Bologna)

The Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic for Fertility and Birth Outcomes: Evidence from Spanish Birth Registers

We examine the joint consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for fertility and birth outcomes by drawing on full population administrative data from Spain. We find a surprising improvement in birth outcomes in November and to a less extent in December 2020 (8–9 months after the first wave of the pandemic) compared with monthly trends in the ten previous years (2010-2019). The improvement in birth outcomes was shortly followed by a decline in fertility, which concentrated on first births, births to women without a tertiary degree, and births to young and old mothers, respectively. These findings are consistent with the idea that the pandemic selectively affected conception, which showed up first as an improvement in birth outcomes due to the missing conceptions of frail-children-to-be (preterm and low birth weight) and then as a lowered fertility rate due to the missing conception of at-term children.


Giulia Corti (University of Bologna)

Trends of assortative mating in the United States, 1700-1910. Evidence from FamiLinx data

We study trends in assortative mating in the US throughout the period 1700-1910 using FamiLinx data. We focus on two dimensions: migration background (distinguishing between natives, first and second-generation migrants) and age. As for mating by migration background, we document cyclic trends, with growing rates of heterogamy in the cohorts born at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries. Log-linear analyses confirm a weaker association between partners’ migration histories in the same cohorts. Conversely, we find a strong intergenerational persistence of mating behavior between parents and children, except for cohorts born at the turn of the 19th century. Similarly, age homogamy increases in the same period. Finally, we combine these two dimensions to study mating as a multidimensional phenomenon. Different results emerge among sexes and migration groups. The study discusses the potentialities of online genealogical data for the study of assortative mating in the long run.


Diederick Boertien (Centr d’estudis demogràfics)

Sexual Orientation and Educational Mobility: A Comparative Analysis

In this presentation, the author present new evidence on the differential patterns of educational mobility by sexual orientation using longidutinal data from Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.