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In Egypt, it helps to have the ‘right’ parents

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Farah Halime

Farah Halime

By Farah Halime, Rebel Economy

Circumstances beyond our control, including our parents’ job titles, have become more important in deciding the fate of young Egyptians in the job market, World Bank data shows.

The type of job a young person ends up with is heavily influenced by the occupations of their parents, underscoring the inequality of opportunity in the Egyptian labour market, according to a World Bank report published in late 2012.

The study shows that in the last decade, the labour market fates of young people in Egypt have become more bound up in their family origins as opportunities have become more limited.

The bottom line: it pays to have the “right” parent. Yes, this might be true for many other countries but it is especially important for Egypt, where youth unemployment is a tinderbox of unrest and instability.

Among Egypt’s young labour market aspirants, more than one in two stay in the same occupations as their parents, the report shows.

Lire Ersado, a senior economist at the World Bank, who was in Cairo this week to share his findings, said the predictive power a father’s occupation has on a son’s or daughter’s occupation has increased in the last ten years:

This means when you’re conceived your fate has already been decided and so being disadvantaged early on can affect your entire life. For example, there is a strong chance that if your father was a farmer, you will also be a farmer.

It’s decided in the womb.

In 2006, 44% of young men and 75% of young women born to parents with white-collar occupations remained in the same occupational status. The data shows that young people with fathers in white-collar occupations are four times more likely to obtain a white-collar job as those with fathers in agricultural or elementary occupations.

Meanwhile, 42% of young men and 54% of young women with parents in agricultural or elementary occupations remained in the same occupational status.  Young women in particular had a much greater decline in their social mobility [i.e., their job prospects] when born to fathers in agricultural or elementary occupations, widening their already sizable disadvantage.

It is not just job prospects that appear to be dampened or helped by your father’s job, but your perception of personal success. 

A son or a daughter of parents in agricultural or elementary occupations has less reason in 2006 than in 1998 to believe he or she can aspire to a better job than her or his father, the data shows.

The son of a father with a blue-collar and agricultural or elementary occupations had, respectively, only a 20% and 15% chance of obtaining a white-collar job in 1998. By 2006, that had shrunk to 18% and 11%.

This has also impacted the search for the right job. 

While it takes as long as 12 years for a less advantaged person to find an ideal, well-paid job, it takes just 8 years for someone considered more advantaged.

While this data is a couple of years old and seems to ignore the secondary, informal labour market, it is an important indicator that suggests ambitious and innovative young Egyptians are more likely to give up on getting a decent job if they are born into a poorer family because opportunities are limited to them.

What is Mr Ersado’s antidote?

He says that economists have varied beliefs about inequality and the harm and hindrance it can have on society. Some believe inequality offers a good incentive to work hard; many others say inequality leads to investment being funnelled to specific projects and ignores the neediest.

But Mr Ersado says, “I have not seen anyone argue against equal opportunities for children. This unites us”.

Addressing the job market problem early on (at the child level) is far more effective than tackling it at the job market level, he says, and is a good entry point for dialogue with the government.

Equality is not just about better job opportunities for men and women but makes economic sense. It means efficiency and productivity. Fundamentally, quality in the job market is also a critical factor for true political rights.

If you had a rewarding, successful job and could feed your family, would you feel like protesting?


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