Research themes

Research fields: Applied economics, Inequality, Education, Wealth, Economic history, Demography
Research interests: Intergenerational mobility, Elites, Gender, Life course perspective

Working papers

Abstract

While the educational expansion of the 20th century promoted social mobility overall, the top of the social hierarchy may have remained privileged. This paper examines the evolution of intergenerational mobility in admissions to the French elite colleges—the Grandes Écoles (GE)—over more than a century. Admission to these institutions is subject to partially anonymous competitive examinations, and their degrees are the ticket to top positions in the public and private sectors. In the growing literature measuring intergenerational mobility through surnames, I design a novel method and apply it to a self-collected dataset on all 285,286 graduates from ten of the most prestigious Grandes Écoles between 1886 and 2015. Principally, I find that children of male GE graduates were highly over-represented in the top colleges throughout the 20th century. Importantly, unlike previous studies exploiting fathers’ socio-professional categories, I find a stable low level of intergenerational mobility for all cohorts born since 1916: chances of GE admission for children of GE graduates were approximately 80 times higher than for the rest of the population. 

Abstract

State awards to civilians are a widespread social phenomenon across space and time but their economic consequences remain mostly unexplored. This paper provides the first quantification of the impact of State awards given to Directors on the stock value of their firms. We link a comprehensive dataset of recipients of the Légion d’honneurthe most prestigious official award in Franceover the 1995–2019 period to Board positions in French listed firms. We document positive abnormal returns in the stocks of recipients’ firms at the date of the award.  We discuss competing mechanisms and present suggestive evidence that awards signal valuable access to policy-makers. This interpretation is corroborated by the absence of any market reaction for recipients who were already identified before award receipt as being close to the Government. 

Abstract

Dynasties constitute a visible sign of intergenerational persistence and raise questions about the legitimacy of the ruling elite. This paper uses data on graduates of elite colleges to explore the influence of political and business dynasties in France. I link nominative data on 103,309 graduates of 12 French Grandes Écoles born between 1931 and 1975 to their professional careers as politicians with national-level mandates or as board members of French firms. Identifying lineage through surnames, I find that sons of political and business leaders were substantially more likely than their graduate peers to pursue elite careers themselves, revealing a social gradient in returns to elite education. Political dynasties were particularly sizeable, although progressively declining. These dynasties also affected the composition of the French elite: fewer dynastical board members were graduates of top colleges than their first-generation colleagues. Yet, they were propelled much younger into top business and political positions. 

Ongoing research

The French Grandes Écoles: long live Parisians and aristocrats

Child wealth penalty
(joint with Marion Leturcq & Lionel Wilner)

Parental death in childhood and wealth accumulation during adulthood
(joint with Marion Leturcq)

Social and economic education mobility: a tale of two disciplines
(joint with Alice Pavie)

Ph.D. dissertation

Grandes Écoles in the 20th century, the field of the French elites: social reproduction, dynasties, networks
Defended on 2021 December 16
Supervisor: Alain Trannoy (EHESS)
Committee: Baptiste Coulmont (Examinator), Arnaud Lefranc (Referee), Louis-André Vallet (President), Akiko Suwa-Eisenmann (Referee)
Awarded the 2022 PhD thesis Prize from the French Economic Association (AFSE)

Summary

Constituted by three self-contained chapters, this dissertation investigates, from a historical perspective, the central role of the most prestigious Grandes Écoles (GE) for the constitution and the perpetuation of the French elites. To that end, I collected and constructed an original dataset on 374,719 graduates registered between 1886 and 2015 in 12 colleges.

The first chapter qualifies the admission process to these Grandes Écoles for cohorts born between 1891 and 1995. Families from ancient aristocratic lineage are continually more likely to be admitted, and Parisian-born individuals are increasingly over-represented in the GE. Descendants of GE graduates are also considerably advantaged in the admission process, over several generations, even more so in the college where their ancestors studied. Moreover, I show that the level of intergenerational reproduction is remarkably stable for all cohorts born since 1916.

The second chapter examines the entry of the Grande École graduates born between 1931 and 1975 on the specific labor market for elite occupations, namely politicians with national-level mandates and board members of French firms. I first confirm that the Grandes Écoles are crucial in the training of such elites. More importantly, I demonstrate the presence of dynasties, as children of the political and business elites have higher chances than their peer graduates to embrace similar careers. Political dynasties are particularly sizeable, although progressively declining for cohorts born after World War 2. I also show that these dynasties shape the composition of the French elite, as dynastical board members tend to be less educated than first-generation directors, and as members of the elite manage to propel their offspring much younger to key business and political positions.

Finally, the third chapter explores the interactions between the political and business elites in the attribution, by politicians to business leaders, of the Légion d’honneur, the most prominent state award in France. Awards constitute news shocks and allow to conduct an event study in the days following their announcement. With my coauthors Renaud Coulomb and Marc Sangnier, we reveal a positive stock market reaction for the firms of the awardees. Graduation of politicians and businesspersons in a same Grande École cohort serves as a signal of political connections. Thus, it appears that only newly disclosed information on connections is priced by financial markets.

This dissertation thereby documents the pervasive and long-lasting influence of the Grandes Écoles on the structuring of the French elites. First, the admission process is characterized by a substantial intergenerational reproduction, which perpetuates over generations. Second, even among graduates, careers remain determined by social origins. Finally, alumni networks that root early in the life course have a durable influence on social outcomes, for instance through higher chances to receive a prestigious state award from a college peer.

Keywords: Grandes Écoles, French elites, intergenerational mobility, social reproduction, political and business elites, Légion d’honneur.


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Chapters in edited volume (in French)

Éducation et inégalités [Education and inequalities] 
in Économie de l’éducation (2022), Delphine Pouchain & Camille Abeille-Becker (editors), Atlande, Clefs concours

La faiblesse des politiques en faveur des jeunes [The deficiency of employment policies targeting the youth]
in La France face au vieillissement (2013), Jean-Hervé Lorenzi & Hélène Xuan (editors), Éditions Descartes & Cie