Educational Attainment and Early Occupational Trajectories of Youth in Mexico City

Conference Paper to be presented by Patricio Solís

Patricio Solís is a Research Professor at the Center for Sociological Studies, El Colegio de México. His focus is on social stratification, social mobility, and educational inequality in Mexico and Latin America. Currently he is finishing a co-edited book that summarizes the results of an international project aimed to analyze intergenerational class mobility patterns in six Latin American countries.

Recent research in Mexico shows that the risk of job precarization is significantly higher among youth. This situation has exacerbated after the economic recession of 2008-09. On the other hand, educational research indicates that the returns on education have decreased, thus increasing labor market vulnerability among the most educated, who used to have secured access to top-level occupations. These trends might suggest that labor market hardship has emerged as a widespread phenomenon among Mexican youth, blurring traditional markers of inequality, such as socioeconomic background and educational attainment. But is this actually the case?

In my presentation, I will discuss the results of recent research in which I analyze the early occupational trajectories of youth in Mexico City. I focus on the effects of educational attainment (controlling for socioeconomic background and family events) on three occupational transitions: entry into the labor force, job shifts, and reentries into the labor force. Using event history analysis, I devote special attention to the competing risks of entering into service-class positions, intermediary occupations, and what I define as “low-quality” occupations.

As earlier research has suggested, my results confirm that many young Mexicans initiate their occupational lives in “low-quality” occupations, and many stay there in subsequent job shifts/reentries. Also, risks of labor disqualification are significantly high among those with higher education. However, the labor market advantages of higher education are still important, particularly because it protects against spending the early stages of the occupational career in low-quality positions.

Thus, in a context of generalized labor market deterioration and precarization, as found in urban Mexico, higher education is no longer a guarantee for successful integration in the labor market. However, it still provides important comparative advantages to those who are able to make it to college. Therefore, social stratification studies should remain interested in the multiple ways in which educational inequality, and particularly inequality in access to higher education, is constructed.


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