Lack of Educational Mobility in Developing Countries Leads to Societal Misrepresentation at International Conferences

Author: Amy Timmerman

Amy Timmerman is a Canadian Delegate to the United Nations Youth Assembly. Amy advocates on behalf of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 4: “Quality Education”, and SDG 13: “Climate Action”. Amy is a student of International Relations at Western University.  In her spare time, Amy is a competitive water skier. 


The goal number one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. Poverty, as described in a preview of an upcoming by the World Bank on intergenerational educational mobility, is caused in part by a lack of intergenerational mobility (IGM). Lack of educational IGM, which is the ability to achieve a higher level of educational attainment than one’s parents, “poses a significant obstacle to economic progress”. Economies with higher IGM in education and income are more effective in reducing poverty and inequality. Thus, it is vital to achieving higher educational IGM in order to attain Goal # 1 – No poverty – by 2030.

When poverty and lack of parental education are compounded, the chance of upward mobility among children in low and lower-middle income economies is restricted. This limits the representation of lower-income groups at higher levels of government; especially in countries experiencing higher educational and income inequality.

Intergenerational education mobility is far lower in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, demonstrating a correlation between low IGM and high poverty levels. Countries in these regions lack the fundamental institutions required for increasing intergenerational education mobility, preventing children from accessing higher education. Furthermore, when parents have not been able to access higher education,  their children have limited representation in domestic and international diplomacy.

Intergenerational education mobility affects the cycle of poverty on an international political level. This is because positions of power are occupied by those who have obtained a high level of education and come from families of similar education and political status. Low levels of intergenerational mobility mean that in countries where low IGM is persistent, lack of representation of these groups in international diplomacy and poverty is perpetuated.

This is problematic because, over time, positions of power are held by people of similar educational and socioeconomic backgrounds which limits opportunities for those positions to be held by educationally and socioeconomically diverse individuals. The Youth Assembly offers a unique platform where youth representing every country have the opportunity to engage in dialogue that, while representative of each country, is not biased by state agendas.

The recent study by the World Bank Group on intergenerational mobility finds that IGM in education is significantly lower in developing economies having stalled in the 1960’s at an average of a low level of educational attainment. This is especially troubling in countries where income, and thus education, are highly concentrated in the upper class. In the preview of the report, the World Bank indicates that the problem of intergenerational mobility needs to be solved by improving and equalizing opportunities for youth at various stages of life, starting at the youngest age.

State institutions that seek to equalize opportunity to attain education at a higher level than one’s parents will be fundamental in improving levels of intergenerational education mobility. This is particularly important for improving levels of accurate representation at high levels of politics. Only by improving levels of educational mobility will we be able to attain the global goals aspired to by the United Nations and civil society as a whole.


This post is a part of a series on intergenerational mobility hosted by Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) in support of the World Bank’s #EndPoverty campaign. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FAF or the World Bank. To see all posts in the series, click here.

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