Escape route from poverty shortest in Denmark: OECD

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Escape route from poverty shortest in Denmark: OECD
File photo: Søren Bidstrup/Scanpix 2016

Social mobility in Denmark compares favourably with all other member countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the intergovernmental organisation has said.


Denmark is the pioneer that experts look at when it comes to breaking with social heritage, OECD director of employment, labour and social affairs Stefano Scarpetta said in an interview with

“Denmark's history is extremely positive vis-à-vis other OECD countries. Social mobility in Denmark is extremely high,” said Scarpetta, who in the course of the past five years has been scrutinising mobility in 34 OECD countries.

In collaboration with his OECD colleagues, Scarpetta has been taking a close look at Denmark in an effort to understand how to create dynamic societies, in which it is not only your background and your parents’ financial situation which determine your trajectory in life.

OECD provided to DI Business a number of statements which outline Denmark's record on social inequality in comparison to 34 OECD countries.

According to the statements, Denmark and the other Nordic countries are amongst those with the smallest difference in income between rich and poor.

Denmark is also one of the countries in which children whose parents have not received further education have good opportunities for studying at college and university themselves.

Of all its member countries, Denmark has the highest degree of income mobility from one generation to the next, the OECD also found. 

As such, Denmark is the country, where your familial origin has the least impact in terms of your income throughout life.

“When Danes say there is no mobility in Denmark, it is because they do not look at other countries. Maybe they don't know what the situation is in France, Italy or the United States,” Scarpetta said.

The OECD director, noted, however, that Denmark has seen some increase in inequality, albeit at a low level, which may be a cause for concern.

Scarpetta said that the Danish education system plays a major role in its good results on social mobility. Denmark provides relatively good education for everyone, he said.

“In the outskirts of Paris, the quality of education is not the same as in the centre. And it is in the outskirts that low income families live. There is not the same diversification of quality in Denmark,” Scarpetta said. 

If it is only the rich who can send their children to high-quality schools and universities, then the existing divisions in society simply remain, negatively impacting national economy as well as social mobility, he said. 

“It is important to make the best use of human resources. That doesn't happen if part of the population are deprived of getting a decent education and achieving their potential,” the OECD director said.

“Denmark can also be proud of its particularly efficient labour market model, in which unemployed people receive targeted help in finding a new job. Denmark may regard this as commonplace, but other countries are not nearly as efficient,” he added.

The fact that discussions about inequality have begun to emerge in Denmark and other countries comes as no surprise to Scarpetta, who said he believes this is because we are in an era in which, unlike in the past, not everyone is seeing their incomes rise.

“If you look back at the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, our economies tended to grow fairly quickly, so that everyone - whether at the top or bottom of society - got a boost in their income. In that context, it was less important to people if the rich became much richer.

“But today, where large groups of society in some countries have not achieved an income increase, there is more focus on the fact that the very rich have become much richer. And that development will continue in the years to come,” he said.

READ ALSO: Report points to increase in socioeconomic inequality between Danish schools


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