Pulte Institute Research Associate publishes article on the influence of social origin on earnings inequality by education in Mexico

Author: Alexandra Bendixen

Dr. Harold J. Toro, a Research Associate in the Pulte Institute for Global Development, has published an article in The British Journal of Sociology which evaluates how unequal social origin hurts the educational chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds and contributes to earnings inequality. The article, “Minding the curve: The influence of social origin on earnings inequality by education in Mexico,” treats Mexico as a case study and draws implications for how educational policy in developing countries, more often than not, contributes to high income inequality levels. 

The study focuses on the distribution of earnings of employed male heads of households in Mexico’s labor market. Relying on a complex methodological strategy, Dr. Toro simulates a “what if” scenario where social origin does not play a role in educational opportunities. By examining the difference between the observed and the simulated distribution, Dr. Toro is able to identify where the benefit of social origin is the highest. 

The importance of this approach is that it provides a rare combination of the emphasis on social mobility in the sociological tradition with the current focus on distributions prevalent in the policy world. The study found that social origin induces an earnings bonus, but the bonus only benefits those with at least a high school education who also happen to be high earners, (beyond the 80th percentile). Those who have less than a completed high school education do not experience any marginal benefit no matter their origin or their placement along the distribution. 

“This finding has important implications for how we understand the mechanisms that drive inequality,” said Toro, who is also an adjunct assistant teaching professor in the Keough School of Global Affairs. “In particular, it illuminates that policies related to educational opportunity can operate as a double-edged sword: When it universalizes educational opportunity such policies appear to neutralize the impact of unequal origin, but contribute to reproducing origin-based inequality in the labor market when they do not.”    

Toro added that the findings can inform the work of scholars and policymakers interested in the social and economic conditions of developing countries, and in ameliorating the intergenerational reproduction of inequality.

Dr. Toro conducts research on social inequality and stratification, labor markets, and economic development. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and spent one year as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. 

The British Journal of Sociology is a peer-reviewed journal for the London School of Economics and Political Science that is published quarterly by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing. For the past 60 years, the BJS has represented the mainstream of sociological thinking and research and is consistently ranked highly by the ISI in Sociology.