The Geographical Variation in Intergenerational Mobility in Denmark

Christoffer Lynghus Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This master’s thesis extends the nascent and sparse literature on geographical variation in intergenerational income, occupational, and educational mobility in Denmark. Utilizing access to high-quality registry data from Statistics Denmark, this study analyzes one of the largest samples yet studied in the context of within-country variation intergenerational mobility in Denmark. A wide variety of measures of intergenerational mobility informed by recent strands of the international literature are applied to investigate county-level geographical variation in the association between children’s origins and destination. These measures include estimates of intergenerational income elasticity, rank-rank mobility, conditional expected ranks, relative risk ratios as well as transition matrices and probability charts. Intergenerational mobility is operationalized in three dimensions and investigated with a wide range of measures to answer the following research question: “How does intergenerational income, occupational, and educational mobility vary geographically in Denmark?” Based on this quantitative analysis of 747,902 Danes born between 1965 and 1975, it can be concluded that intergenerational income, occupational, and educational mobility does vary considerably geographically in Denmark. For example, a child from the nation’s capital, København and Frederiksberg, who is born to parents at the 25 percentile is expected to reach the 39th income percentile as an adult, whereas a child from Ringkøbing in the middle of Jutland with parents at the same income percentile would be expected to reach the 47th income percentile on average. The chance of going from “rags to riches,” i.e. being in the top income quintile if one’s parents were in the lowest income quintile, is as high as 18.25% in Frederiksborg, almost equivalent to complete randomness, and as low as 11.05% in Fyn. Moreover, children’s prospects of educational attainment and future occupational position are influenced to a significant but varying degree by their parents’ status (relative mobility). This dependence persists when controlling for the generally upward-trending structural changes (absolute mobility) in educational levels and occupational class structure in Denmark during the same period. The findings suggest that relative mobility varies less geographically than in many other OECD countries and that Danes enjoy comparatively high levels of mobility generally. However, caution is warranted when comparing these subnational estimates with those of other countries, as they are highly influenced by the granularity and definition of geographical units. While they may be found to be less pronounced than in other countries, potentially concerning patterns of intergenerational persistence in relative educational and occupational mobility are identified at the bottom and, especially, at the top in Denmark. The analysis in this thesis is ultimately descriptive and, as such, does not make causal claims. Yet, these new findings raise important questions regarding the causal mechanisms driving intergenerational mobility and its geographical variation. Hopefully, the findings and analyses presented can be suggestive or even facilitative of fruitful avenues of future targeted research into intergenerational mobility in Denmark, its geographical variation, and the causal mechanisms that drive it.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2022
Number of pages222
SupervisorsLasse Folke Henriksen