Dreaming within Limits: Socioeconomic Mobility of Brazilian Women

Brazil has one of the highest and most persistent income inequality levels in the world. The degree of persistence of economic status between generations is directly related to the degree of persistence of inequality of opportunities across time. While Brazilian women in Danger Zones have increasingly become the heads of their household, they have never been part of the analysis of status transmission. To add some perspective, over 80% of kids in Brazil have a woman as their primary caretaker, and over 5.5 million people of up to 30 years old are not registered by their fathers. And yet, up to 2014, the Brazilian government had never collected data about mothers’ occupational status. In contrast, there’s data for fathers for at least five different surveys, which is hugely problematic given that the government is continually attempting to remedy its inequality through different policies while ignoring critical economic agents that are targeted directly by those policies.

Building on my Hanna Holborn Fellowship, for my thesis in 2017, I decided to take women seriously as proposed by Enloe (2013) and estimate the degree of intergenerational income mobility for mothers and daughters. I used the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (National Household Survey, aka PNAD) of 2014 to estimate the degree of persistence of economic status for different concepts of income and samples through the two-sample instrumental variables method (TSIV). I used two groups of mothers and daughters, one that restricted work hours to 40h/week and above (to compare to previous studies that did father-offspring analyses), and one without such restrictions.

I found a high degree of transmission of economic status among generations in Brazil measured for mothers and daughters. However, this degree of persistence is smaller if we do not restrict the work journey. Those values depend on the concept of income used. They are higher when using “Personal Income” (sum of monthly wages, capital, and benefits gains) for the first case and higher when using “Family Income per capita” in the second case, but lower when considering “All Jobs’ Income” (sum of monthly wages).
These results shed light on the importance of gendering public intervention. Any public policy that aims to reduce economic inequality should account for the mother transmission factor. First, consider the Brazilian history of redistribution policies through conditional cash transfer programs (i.e., Bolsa Família, Bolsa Escola, Auxílio Gás). If the focus of public policy remains on said programs, one should aim to increase mothers’ benefits and capital gains to rise their Personal Income ultimately. Since this might not be the best way to address inequality, future research should focus on evaluating what the best way to minimize status transmission is, through the perspective of women.

My new research focuses on the impact of education on the socioeconomic mobility of women. Based on my field interviews from my Hanna Holborn Gray, I found that more than 50% of the interviewees’ mothers had to deal with circumstances that forced them into becoming the head of household, and that is when they realized the importance of education in the labor market. So mothers invested more heavily in their kids’ schooling, resulting in daughters better educated than their mothers, which should decrease income elasticities. Still, since there is no data available for mothers before 2014, it is hard to tell whether the results presented here already show a decrease in the elasticities. So now, I want to find out if the mothers’ investment in education paid off and made the income persistence smaller.