Geary Lecture “Social Mobility and Equality of Opportunity”

March 11, 2010 4:00PM - 5:30PM

Venue: ESRI, Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2

Speaker: Professor Richard Breen (Yale University).

The Thirty-Ninth Geary Lecture (and first of 2010) was given by Professor Richard Breen (Yale University) on the topic of ‘Social Mobility and Equality of Opportunity’. This is one of the special events being held during 2010 to mark the Institute’s fiftieth birthday.

Equality of opportunity is a principle that commands almost universal popular support and which many governments seek to promote. Social mobility – the degree to which people and families move between positions of social and economic advantage and disadvantage – is sometimes proposed as a way of assessing the extent of equality of opportunity. In this lecture, Richard Breen argues that, once we pay close attention to how social mobility is defined and measured and how equality of opportunity is conceptualized, we find that there is, in fact, no straightforward relationship between them. And so, despite claims to the contrary made by politicians and sometimes by social scientists, social mobility cannot be used as a measure of equality of opportunity.

Richard Breen is Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course at Yale University. He is also a Senior Research Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and a Fellow of the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung. He works mainly on social stratification and inequality. Recent publications include Social Mobility in Europe (Oxford University Press 2004) and “Non-Persistent Inequality in Educational Attainment: Evidence from Eight European Countries”, co-authored with Ruud Luijkx, Walter Müller and Reinhard Pollak which appeared in American Journal of Sociology, March 2009. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Member of Royal Irish Academy.

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The Geary lecture is organised each year by the ESRI and honours Dr R. C. Geary (1896 –1983), the first Director of the Institute.

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