Dr Jo Blanden

Reader in Economics
+44 (0)1483 682770
25 AD 00
Remote office hours will be held on Tues and Thurs at 10am. Email for link.

Academic and research departments

School of Economics.



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Research collaborations

My teaching

My publications


JOANNE BLANDEN, Emilia Del Bono, Birgitta Rabe, Kirstine Hansen Quantity and quality of childcare and children's educational outcomes, In: Journal of Population Economics Springer
Policy makers wanting to support child development can choose to adjust the quantity or quality of publicly funded universal pre-school. To assess the impact of such changes we estimate the effects of an increase in free pre-school education in England of about 3.5 months at age 3 on children's school achievement at age 5. We exploit date-of-birth discontinuities that create variation in the length and starting age of free pre-school using administrative school records linked to nursery characteristics. Estimated effects are small overall, but the impact of the additional term is substantially larger in settings with the highest inspection quality rating but not in settings with highly quali fied staff. Estimated effects fade out by age 7.
Sumaiya Rahman (2020)Three essays in microeconomics. University of Surrey
This thesis documents the evolution of absolute mobility in individual earnings, household income and household consumption in the UK over the last 25 years. Absolute mobility is defined as the fraction of children earning as much or more than the parents, in real times at a similar point in the life-cycle, and is calculated using the decomposition technique introduced by Chetty, Grusky, et al. (2017). In Chapter 1, I show that absolute earnings mobility was increasing until the mid-2000s, and then plummeted due to the fall in real weekly earnings after the Great Recession. In 2018, absolute earnings mobility was only 36 percent, about 22 percentage points lower than in 2008. This decline in absolute earnings mobility could have been avoided if real weekly earnings had continued to grow at the pre-recession trend. In Chapter 2, I show that absolute income mobility was higher in levels than absolute earnings mobility, and the measure did not experience the steep decline over the last decade. This gap between absolute earnings and income mobility can be partly explained by the inclusion of non-labour earnings and welfare transfers in household incomes, which were higher in the children’s generation compared to the parents. In addition, the rise in labour force participation of women combined with the tremendous growth in their earnings meant that dual-income households played a major role in raising and stabilizing the level of absolute income mobility. The final chapter in this thesis investigates the effect of an early-life climate shock on mother’s breastfeeding behaviour and children’s anthropometric measures. I use the 1998 flood in Bangladesh as a natural experiment to implement the difference-in-difference framework. I find that children affected by the flood were breastfed for longer than those unaffected. In addition, contrary to previous studies, children did not report any difference in height-for-age z-scores, but had lower weight-for-age z-scores. Increased breastfeeding by mothers, along with generous assistance in the form of food and finances from the government, ensured that children did not suffer from the severe negative effect common in such extreme weather events.
This thesis conducts an empirical analysis which explores the impact of parental investment, birth control policy and higher education expansion reform on individuals’ education attainments and labour market outcomes in China. The thesis includes three substantive chapters. Firstly, Chapter 3 presents new evidence on the child quantity-quality (Q-Q) trade-off in China. The primary contribution is the use of a new instrumental variable (IV) for fertility, i.e., local policy relaxation regarding Chinese birth control, in order to establish the causal effect of family size on child educational attainments and health outcomes. The aim is to examine whether having more children in a family has a negative impact on child quality and if the higher education of parents and a larger household income have a positive impact on child outcomes. Additionally, this estimation can check the effectiveness of the one-child policy. The findings indicate that there is a negative effect of fertility on education outcome, and support the prediction made by the Becker and Lewis’ model regarding the Q-Q trade-off for children. However, there is no evidence for health outcome. Secondly, Chapter 4 studies the role of higher education expansion policy in increasing the equality of higher education opportunities. In 1999, government rapidly expanded the number of higher education places available. The goal of this chapter is to explore the impact of family background and gender on access to higher education, prior to and following the higher education expansion policy. The analysis is based on nationally representative data from the Chinese Family Panel Studies (CFPS), collected in 2010. Cohort-level analysis and a difference-in-difference model were used to estimate how the benefits of the education expansion were distributed. The results show that higher education expansion has not been equally distributed among people from richer and poorer backgrounds. The education of parents remains a strong determinant of educational outcomes among children following education reform. Despite the benefits brought on by the expansion system, such as more opportunities for accessing tertiary education, these benefits have not been distributed evenly among families, geographies or gender. The equality of higher education opportunities remains a difficult task. Finally, Chapter 5 examines the causal impact of higher education expansion policy on labour market outcomes for young college graduates. Large pooled cross-sectional datasets were used from the Chinese Household Income Project (CHIP) between 1995 and 2013. First, the Mincer-style of returns to education for young cohorts were estimated in the 1995, 2002, 2007 and 2013 survey years. The aim was to compare the extent of returns to education among the pre-expansion cohort and the post-expansion cohort, and evidence is found a significant decrease in the returns to higher education of young cohorts. Second, another approach quantifies the effects of educational expansion on labour market outcomes and identifies the distribution of returns to education by exploring a natural experiment. This study exploited variation in the intensity of expansion in college numbers across provinces and applied a difference-in-difference model to estimate the effect of the education reform. The results of the study also illustrate expansion has a negative effect on college graduates’ returns and labour market outcomes.
J Blanden, E Del Bono, S McNally, B Rabe (2016)Universal pre-school education: the case of public funding with private provision, In: ECON J126pp. 682-723 BLACKWELL PUBL LTD
This paper studies the effect of free pre-school education on child outcomes in primary school. We exploit the staggered implementation of free part-time pre-school for three-yearolds across Local Education Authorities in England in the early 2000s. The policy led to small improvements in attainment at age five, with no apparent benefits by age 11. We argue that this is because the expansion of free places largely crowded out privately paid care, with small changes in total participation, and was achieved through an increase in private provision, where quality is lower on average than in the public sector.
J Blanden, E Greaves, P Gregg, L Macmillan, L Sibieta (2015)Understanding the improved performance of disadvantaged pupils in London, In: Social Policy in a Cold ClimateWorkinpp. 2-47 LSE Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion
London is an educational success story, with especially good schooling results for more disadvantaged pupils. This is a dramatic reversal of fortunes. This paper uses a combination of administrative and survey data to document these improvements and understand more about why the performance of disadvantaged pupils in London has improved so much.  First of all we consider the timing of the improvement. We show that the London advantage for poor children was present in primary and secondary schools from the mid-1990s. This is well before the introduction of many recent policies that have previously been cited as the reasons for London’s success, such as the London Challenge or Academies programme.  Differences in the ethnic mix of pupils can explain some of the higher level of performance, but only about one sixth of the growth over time. Instead, the majority is explained by rising prior attainment (pupils entering secondary school with better age 11 test scores) and a reduced negative contribution of having many disadvantaged children in school.  Data from the Millennium Cohort Study shows that disadvantaged pupils in London have no advantage compared to those in the rest of England at age 5, but then show faster improvements between age 5 and 11 once they have started school.  Taken together, our evidence suggests improvements in London’s schools seem to be mainly attributable to gradual improvements in school quality rather than differences or changes in the effects of pupil and family characteristics.  Closer examination of the policies and practice in London from the mid to late 1990s could provide valuable lessons as to how educational performance can be boosted among disadvantaged groups.
J Blanden, S Machin (2008)Up and down the generational income ladder in Britain: Past changes and future prospects, In: National Institute Economic Review205(1)pp. 101-116 Sage Publications
J Blanden, P Gregg, L Macmillan (2007)Accounting for intergenerational income persistence: Noncognitive skills, ability and education, In: The Economic Journal117(519)pp. C43-C60 Blackwell Publishing
We analyse in detail the factors that lead to intergenerational persistence among sons, where this is measured as the association between childhood family income and later adult earnings. We seek to account for the level of income persistence in the 1970 BCS cohort and also to explore the decline in mobility in the UK between the 1958 NCDS cohort and the 1970 cohort. The mediating factors considered are cognitive skills, noncognitive traits, educational attainment and labour market attachment. Changes in the relationships between these variables, parental income and earnings are able to explain over 80% of the rise in intergenerational persistence across the cohorts.
This paper summarises research on the relative level of intergenerational mobility - whether classified by income, social class, social status or education - considering observations from 65 countries. With the exception of social class, the different approaches reveal similar patterns. South America, other developing nations, southern European countries and France tending to have rather limited mobility while the Nordic countries exhibit strong mobility. Evidence for the US and Germany differs across the measures, with Germany immobile on education and class and fairly mobile on income and the reverse true for the US. These differences are likely explained by greater within-group income inequality and persistence in the US. The second part of the paper finds that mobility is negatively correlated with inequality and the returns to education and positively correlated with a nation's education spending.
J Blanden, S Machin, J Van Reenen (2006)Have unions turned the corner? New evidence on recent trends in union recognition in UK firms, In: BRITISH JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS44(2)pp. 169-190 WILEY-BLACKWELL
This paper investigates whether young people whose fathers are union members are themselves more likely to join a union. We find that young people with unionized fathers are twice as likely to be unionized as those with non-union fathers and that this rises to three times higher for those whose fathers are active in the union. This supports the idea that socialization within the family plays a role in encouraging union membership. It is not the case that the cross-generation correlations we observe are driven by common within-family characteristics (like occupation, industry and political persuasion) that are strongly related to union membership. X-PublishedAs-Type: article X-PublishedAs-Journal: British journal of industrial relations X-PublishedAs-Year: 2003 X-PublishedAs-Volume: 41 X-PublishedAs-Pages: 391-415
In this paper we investigate whether young people whose fathers are union members are themselves more likely to join a union. The work builds upon a large social science literature on intergenerational mobility that, to ourknowledge, has not been applied to industrial relations questions. The paper asks questions and provides evidence from British longitudinal data on several issues to do with the cross-generation transmission of union status:i) We first calculate odds ratios, as often used in the literature on social mobility, to look at empirical connections between the union status of young people and their fathers. We calculate relative risk ratios that measure the relative chances that a child of a unionized father is unionized as compared to the relative chances of the child of a non-union father being unionized. This relative risk ratio is of the order of 2, showing that young people with unionized fathers are twice as likely to be unionized as those with non-union fathers. ii) The relative risk ratio is higher, at over 3, for young people with fathers who report themselves as being active in a union. To the extent that active in a union fathers are more likely to 'spread the word' about unions to their offspring, this higher relative risk ratio supports the idea that the socialization within the family during the formative years passes on positive knowledge about unions to children of unionized parents making them more likely to join a union. iii) The intergenerational correlation of union status has not reduced over time. Despite a widening of the union membership gap between older and younger workers, relative risk ratios calculated from early 1980s data are no larger than those from the 1990s. iv) The cross-generation correlation is not driven by common within-family characteristics (like occupation, industry and political persuasion) that are strongly related to union status in the data.

La presente etude repose sur l'appariement de donnees fiscales concernant les filles, leurs parents, leur partenaire et les parents de leur partenaire pour examiner les interactions entre la mobilite intergenerationnelle du revenu et l'appariement conjugal des jeunes couples au Canada. Nous montrons comment l'appariement assortatif contribue a la persistance intergenerationnelle du revenu du menage. La force de l'association entre le revenu du beau-fils et celui des parents de la femme signifie que le lien intergenerationnel est plus puissant pour les revenus du menage que pour le revenu personnel des filles uniquement. Il en est de meme si l'on examine la situation du point de vue oppose, de sorte que les gains des filles et de leur partenaire sont relies au revenu des parents de ce dernier. Ces resultats indiquent que l'appariement assortatif intensifie la persistance intergenerationnelle du revenu au niveau individuel.

Dans la deuxieme partie du document, nous considerons l'appariement assortatif selon le revenu parental. Nous constatons que le revenu des parents de la fille a une elasticite de pres de 0,2 par rapport au revenu des parents de son partenaire. Cette association est a peu pres du meme ordre de grandeur que le lien intergenerationnel entre les revenus des parents et des enfants. Nous etudions les variations de la correlation entre les revenus parentaux en fonction de plusieurs variables mesurees; les correlations sont plus faibles pour les couples qui cohabitent, ainsi que pour ceux qui forment tot une union, ceux qui vivent dans les regions rurales et, ce qui est fort interessant, ceux qui divorcent ulterieurement. Nous interpretons ce dernier resultat comme etant la preuve qu'en moyenne, les couples pour lesquels les revenus des parents sont comparables jouissent d'une union plus stable.

Joanne Blanden, R Haveman, T Smeeding, K Wilson (2014)Intergenerational mobility in the united states and great britain: A comparative study of parent-child pathways, In: Review of Income and Wealth60(3)pp. 425-449 Wiley
We build on cross-national research to examine the relationships underlying estimates of relative intergenerational mobility in the United States and Great Britain using harmonized longitudinal data and focusing on men. We examine several pathways by which parental status is related to offspring status, including education, labor market attachment, occupation, marital status, and health, and perform several sensitivity analyses to test the robustness of our results. We decompose differences between the two nations into that part attributable to the strength of the relationship between parental income and the child's characteristics and the labor market return to those child characteristics. We find that the relationships underlying these intergenerational linkages differ in systematic ways between the two nations. In the United States, primarily because of the higher returns to education and skills, the pathway through offspring education is relatively more important than it is in Great Britain; by contrast, in Great Britain the occupation pathway forms the primary channel of intergenerational persistence. © 2013 International Association for Research in Income and Wealth.
J Blanden, K Hansen, S Machin (2010)The Economic Cost of Growing Up Poor: Estimating the GDP Loss Associated with Child Poverty, In: Fiscal Studies31(3)pp. 289-311 Wiley-Blackwell

This paper makes use of matched tax-return data for daughters, their parents, their partners and their partners' parents to investigate the interactions between intergenerational mobility and marital matching for young couples in Canada. We show how assortative mating contributes to intergenerational household income persistence. The strength of the association between sons-in-law's income and women's parental income means that the intergenerational link between household incomes is stronger than that found for daughters' own incomes alone. This is also the case when viewed from the other side, so that daughters' and their partners' earnings are related to partners' parental income. These results indicate that assortative matching magnifies individual-level intergenerational persistence.

In the second part of the paper we consider assortative mating by parental income. We find that daughter's parental income has an elasticity of almost 0.2 with respect to her partner's parental income. This association is of approximately the same magnitude as the intergenerational link between parents' and children's incomes. We investigate variations in the correlation between the parental incomes across several measured dimensions; cohabiting couples have lower correlations, as do those who form partnerships early, those who live in rural areas and most interestingly, those who later divorce. We interpret this last result as evidence that, on average, couples with parental incomes that are more similar enjoy a more stable match.

J Blanden (2011)Cross-Country Rankings In Intergenerational Mobility: A Comparison of Approaches From Economics and Sociology, In: Journal of Economic Surveys27(1)pp. 38-73 Blackwell Publishing
This paper summarizes research on the relative level of intergenerational mobility - whether classified by income, education or social class. The literatures on education and income mobility reveal a similar ranking with South America, other developing nations, southern European countries and France tending to have rather limited mobility although the Nordic countries exhibit strong mobility. Estimates of mobility based on social class point to rather different patterns, and we demonstrate that these differences are most likely generated by intergenerational earnings persistence within social classes. The second part of the paper looks for explanations for the differences in earnings and education persistence and finds that mobility is negatively correlated with inequality and the return to education but positively correlated with a nation's education spending.
J Blanden, A Goodman, P Gregg, S Machin Changes in Intergenerational Mobility in Britain
This paper compares and contrasts estimates of the extent of intergenerational income mobility over time in Britain. Estimates based on two British birth cohorts show that mobility appears to have fallen in a cross-cohort comparison of people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s (the 1958 birth cohort) as compared to a cohort who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s (the 1970 birth cohort). The sensitivity of labour market earnings to parental income rises, thereby showing less intergenerational mobility for the more recent cohort. This supports theoretical notions that the widening wage and income distribution that occurred from the late 1970s onwards slowed down the extent of mobility up or down the distribution across generations.
J Blanden, S Machin (2004)Educational inequality and the expansion of UK higher education, In: SCOTTISH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL ECONOMY51(2)pp. 230-249 WILEY-BLACKWELL
J Blanden, F Buscha, P Sturgis, P Urwin (2012)Measuring the earnings returns to lifelong learning in the UK, In: Economics of Education Review31(4)pp. 501-514 Elsevier Science
J Blanden, L Macmillan (2016)Educational inequality, educational expansion and intergenerational mobility, In: Journal of Social Policy45(4) Cambridge University Press
The distribution of education by social background and the mobility prospects of society are intimately connected. To begin to predict future trends in mobility in the UK we bring together evidence on educational inequality by family background for cohorts from 1958 to 2000 for a range of educational outcomes. There is evidence that educational inequalities have narrowed among recent cohorts as the overall level of educational achievement has increased. This could be promising for mobility provided the labour market returns to these qualifications are maintained. However, stubborn inequalities by background at higher attainment levels imply that narrowing inequalities and expanding equality of opportunity throughout the educational distribution is a difficult task.
This paper reports results from a recent survey we conducted on the union status of over 650 firms in the private sector of the UK. Compared to earlier periods, the survey shows that since 1997 there has been a slight fall in derecognition, but a relatively large increase in union recognition. Almost 11% of firms report experiencing some new recognition, whilst 7% reported some derecognition. In the late 1980s new recognitions among similar firms were much lower (3% between 1985 to 1990 according to Gregg and Yates, 1991). In our survey, new recognitions were more prevalent in larger firms and in regions and industries where union membership was already high. New recognitions were less likely to have occurred in companies with higher wages, higher productivity and higher capital intensity. The 'blip up' in new recognitions is consistent with the idea that the incoming Labour government had a positive effect on the ability of unions to gain recognition, either through the 1999 legislation or more indirectly through changing the political climate.
J Blanden, P Gregg (2004)Family income and educational attainment: A review of approaches and evidence for Britain, In: OXFORD REVIEW OF ECONOMIC POLICY20(2)pp. 245-263 OXFORD UNIV PRESS
J Blanden (2010)Social Mobility: Concepts and Measurement, In: Options for Britain II: Cross-Cutting Policy Issues - Changes and Challenges Wiley-Blackwell
Collectively, these volumes provide an authoritative understanding of how public policy in Britain has changed over the last decade while offering bold ideas to meet the next decade's challenges.
J Blanden, S Machin (2010)Education and Inequality, In: Economics of Education Elsevier
The 70 contributors are each well-regarded economists whose research has advanced the topic on which they write, and this book fulfills an undersupplied niche for a text in the economics of education.
Jo Blanden traces the evolution of CEP research on social mobility and its interaction with policy debate.
J Blanden, L Macmillan (2011)Recent Developments in Intergenerational Mobility, In: The Labour Market in Winter: The State of Working Britain(13) Oxford University Press
This book provides an overview of the key issues concerning the performance of the labour market and policy in the UK, with focus on the 2008 financial crisis, the ensuing recession, and its aftermath.
J Blanden (2009)Intergenerational Income mobility in a Comparative Perspective, In: Education and inequality across Europe Edward Elgar Pub
This volume represents a new chapter in understanding income inequality.
J Blanden, I Katz, G Redmond (2012)Persistent Inequality? A Comparison of the Impact of Family background on Children's Outcomes in the UK and Australia, In: From Parents to Children: the Intergenerational Transmission of Advantage Russell Sage Foundation Publications
The book compares whether and how parents' resources transmit advantage to their children at different stages of development and sheds light on the structural differences among countries that may influence intergenerational mobility.
J Blanden, R Haveman, T Smeeding, K Wilson (2011)Understanding the Mechanisms behind Intergenerational Persistence: A Comparison Between the United States and Great Britain, In: Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting: The Comparative Study of Intergenerational Mobility Russell Sage Foundation Publications
The book sheds light on how the social and economic mobility of children differs within and across counties and the impact private family resources, public policies, and social institutions may have on mobility.
J Blanden, S Machin (2003)Cross-generation correlations of union status for young people in Britain, In: BRITISH JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS41(3)pp. 391-415 WILEY-BLACKWELL
Sociologists and economists reach quite different conclusions about how intergenerational mobility in the UK compares for those growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Persistence in social class is found to be unchanged while family income is found to be more closely related to sons’ earnings for those born in 1970 compared to those born in the 1958. We investigate the reasons for the contrast and find that they are not due to methodological differences or data quality. Rather, they are explained by the increased importance of differences in income within social class for sons’ earnings in the second cohort. When economists measure intergenerational mobility their ideal is to see how permanent income is transmitted across generations. Our investigations show that the importance of within-social class differences in income mean that a single measure of income is a better predictor of permanent income status than fathers’ social class. We would not, therefore, expect the results for changes in intergenerational mobility based on income and social class to necessarily coincide.
J Blanden, F Buscha, P Sturgis, P Urwin Measuring the Returns to Lifelong Learning
This paper investigates the returns to lifelong learning, which is interpreted as the attainment of qualifications following entry into the labour market. For a number of reasons our analysis of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) represents an important addition to the existing evidence base. We allow for financial and non-financial returns to lifelong learning by using as dependent variables both (i) hourly earnings and (ii) CAMSIS score. A fixed effects specification counters the potential biases that arise from unobserved individual heterogeneity and the inclusion of lags allows estimation of how the returns to lifelong learning evolve over a ten year period after the qualification is obtained. We find evidence of earnings and occupation status returns using a broad categorisation of lifelong learning for both men and women, but more variability in returns when disaggregated NVQ-equivalent categories of qualification are considered. Our findings are broadly in line with existing evidence within the UK, which is mostly based on the analysis of cohort studies. 0f particular interest is the finding that returns to women materialise much sooner after the attainment of a qualification, than is the case for their male counterparts.
J Blanden, P Gregg, S Machin Changes in Educational Inequality
This paper looks at changes over time in the extent of educational inequality - defined as educational attainment by people from higher relative to lower income backgrounds. It draws upon household and longitudinal data sources in both the UK and US to look at this highly policy relevant question. The data shows a sharp rise in educational inequality over time in the UK, but with the stage of the education sequence mattering. In particular the rapid expansion of higher education seen in the recent past in the UK disproportionately benefited children from relatively affluent backgrounds. The international comparisons show different patterns of change in the association between education and family income over time in the UK relative to the US. We link these findings on changes in educational inequality to the literature on intergenerational mobility, arguing that international differences in educational systems matter for the extent of economic and social mobility across generations.
The recent literature on intergenerational mobility in the UK has been focused on measuring the level and change in the relationship between parental income and children’s earnings as adults among recent cohorts. This paper is the first to analyse in detail the factors that generate these links. The paper seeks to account for the level of income persistence in the 1970 BCS cohort and also to explore the decline in mobility in the UK between the 1958 NCDS cohort and the 1970 cohort. The mediating factors considered are childhood health, cognitive skills, non-cognitive traits, educational attainment and labour market attachment. We find that these variables together explain slightly more than half of the intergenerational link for men. Changes in the relationships between these variables, parental income and earnings are able to explain three quarters of the rise in intergenerational persistence across the cohorts. The increased persistence in the second cohort comes from an increased influence of parental income in determining educational attainment, especially higher education, and labour market attachment. It is also clear that the stronger relationship between parental income and education comes in part through the growing relationship between parental income and the non-cognitive characteristics that influence education outcomes.