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Inequality working group

Welcome to the webpage of the Inequality Working Group (IWG), hosted at the European University Institute (EUI), Department of Political and Social Sciences.

The mission of the working group is to facilitate the exchange of research among EUI researchers and professors on various aspects of social inequality, and, to the extent possible, to push this discussion beyond the boundaries of the EUI research community by attracting external speakers and audiences.

IWG is convened by Professors Juho Härkönen and Herman Van De Werfhorst

Please contact the coordinators ([email protected][email protected] ) If you have any questions, or want to be added to the IWG mailing list. Follow us on Twitter @clic_iwg for recent proceedings in research, interesting events and more.




2022/2023 First-Term Programme


Social and academic embeddedness as buffers against school closure effects on learning gaps 

Herman van de Werfhorst (EUI), Dieuwke Zwier, Sara Geven, Thijs Bol, et al.  

6.10. 13:30-15:00, Seminar Room 2 


Using a unique combination of student-level survey, sociometric and register data, this study examines whether the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling outcomes is affected by students’ academic and social embeddedness in school networks and norms. We estimate the impact of the pandemic on the track recommendation level and the enrolled secondary school track by comparing sixth-graders who went through the transition from primary to secondary school during the first wave of the pandemic with a previous cohort in register data of the Netherlands. The individual pandemic effect is then associated to student and parent information obtained through a survey in the two months preceding the pandemic. Results show that especially student self-efficacy, academic motivation, and parental involvement are important buffers against pandemic effects. The centrality of parents in the parental network in schools also helps students to reduce the impact of the pandemic, especially for children of less wealthy households.   


Left Behind Whom? Economic Status Loss and Populist Radical Right Voting 

Giuseppe Ciccolini (European University Institute) 
20.10. 13:30-15:00, Seminar Room 2 


Citizens’ resentment at losing out to the rest of society is commonly regarded as the foundation of the demand for the populist radical right (PRR). Yet whether this motive has an objective economic basis remains disputed. Relying on ESS individual-level data from 23 elections across Western Europe, combined with Eurostat data, I demonstrate that the PRR polls better among social classes facing economic status loss. To do so, I leverage a novel positional measure of income. This approach allows me to gauge economic status loss as a distinct experience from worsening financial circumstances — which empirical research has chiefly focused on. Evidence that the former, rather than the latter, is the economic engine of PRR support is further corroborated by data on cultural stances and redistributive preferences. My study confirms the complementarity of cultural- and economic-based explanations of PRR voting and reveals one electoral consequence of rising economic inequalities. 


The Intergenerational Persistence of Poverty in High-Income Countries 

Zachary Parolin (Bocconi) 
3.11. 13:30-15:00, Emeroteca 


In all high-income countries, children who grow up in poverty are more likely to also be poor in adulthood. However, the strength of that relationship – and the negative consequences of exposure to childhood poverty in general -- varies widely across high-income countries. This study uses comparative panel data from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia to understand cross-national differences in the intergenerational persistence of poverty. We first present an accounting framework to decompose adult poverty rates into (1) levels of exposure to poverty during childhood and (2) the strength of the relationship between childhood poverty and adult poverty. We apply this framework to demonstrate that stronger correlation of childhood and adult poverty in the U.S. is largely responsible for the country’s higher poverty rates in adulthood compared to the other high-income countries. We then investigate why the intergenerational transmission of poverty varies across countries, investigating cross-national differences in the mechanisms – such as educational attainment, employment, and family structure – through which childhood poverty affects poverty in adulthood. 


Children's Extracurricular Activities and Their Relation to Short- and Long-Term Inequalities 

Henriette Bering (Visiting Researcher EUI, University of Bremen) 


17.11. 13:30-15:00, Emeroteca 


Abstract TBA 

Education and social mobility in India 

Divya Vaid (Jawaharlar Nehru University) 


1.12. 13:30-15:00, ONLINE (Emeroteca) 


Abstract TBA 


The Unequal Spirit of the Protestant Reformation: Particularism and Wealth Distribution in Early Modern Germany          

Felix Schaff (Max Weber Fellow) 

15.12. 13:30-15:00, Sala del Capitolo 



This paper studies the impact of the Protestant Reformation on wealth distribution and in- equality in confessionally divided Germany, between 1400 and 1800. The Reformation expanded social welfare, but provided it in a particularistic way to insiders only. This gave Protestantism an ambiguous character in terms of redistribution and its impact on inequality. I develop a theoretical framework of this trade-off, and test its implications empirically, using a Difference- in-Differences and an Instrumental Variable strategy. In line with the theoretical framework, I document that the Reformation exacerbated inequality overall, by making marginal poor people relatively poorer. The result is driven by the introduction of new particularistic poor relief poli- cies in Protestant communities. The inegalitarian character of Protestantism, typically found in contemporary societies, can be traced back to the beginning of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. 





Inequality Round Table

The Inequality Round Table is an opportunity for researchers and postdocs to get to know each other and discuss work in progress in an informal setting. Researchers/postdocs in need of peer feedback are invited to submit something written (the draft of a theoretical background, a long abstract for a potential article, a mindmap of your prospectus…) at least 8 days before the following meeting. Each piece selected will be assigned a discussant and circulated among all participants before the meeting. Preparing a very short presentation is recommended, but not mandatory. For more information, expressions of interest, and submissions, please write to [email protected]

Reading Sessions

The Reading Sessions of the Inequality Working Group aim at discussing the most recent seminal books in the fields of social and economic inequality. 

One book at a time will be discussed during each of the meetings, starting with a short summary of the selected book (by a different volunteer each time) and followed by key discussion points and an informal discussion of the reading.

Each meeting will last for one hour during lunch and will take place every 6 to 8 weeks.

Please contact 
[email protected] if you have any suggestions for the upcoming sessions, or if you want to volunteer to summarise any of the books. 

Page last updated on 21 October 2022