The briq scholarship program supports about 25 Ph.D. students at the Bonn Graduate School of Economics. Some of them are directly involved in briq research activities. In a series of short portraits, the briq newsroom introduces our student fellows and what they do. One of them is Klara Röhrl, who has been at briq since October 2016.
What are your main research topics?
I am very interested in equality of opportunity – the question to what degree the circumstances into which you are born determine your chances in life. There is a growing public debate on the rise of inequality both in Europe and the United States. However, I think most people don’t care so deeply about income inequality in itself. Rather, we care about it because we feel that when income is distributed very unequally, so are life chances and other things we care about.
The last two decades have provided some evidence that this feeling might be right. Countries with low inequality such as Denmark or Norway have more intergenerational mobility. So, the social position of parents is less predictive of their children’s social status. Similarly, countries with high inequality, such as the United States, also have more inequality in other important dimensions such as life expectancy. To me, the important question is: what can we do, as a society, to give everyone the chance to lead a good life.
What are you currently working on?
In a project with Armin Falk, Fabian Kosse and Pia Pinger, we study how life satisfaction develops during childhood and adolescence. Using the briq family panel – a unique longitudinal data set of children and their families – we analyze to what extent socio-economic background influences how children’s life satisfaction develops during adolescence.
It turns out that socio-economic background does not seem to play a role for children’s life satisfaction when they are in primary school and most children are very satisfied with their lives. However, as they grow older, disadvantaged children become increasingly less satisfied with their lives than their more advantaged peers.
What is unique about this dataset?
In my view, there are three features that make the briq family panel stand out. First, the children in the panel have so far been interviewed up to seven times since they were eight. I’m not aware of any other dataset that interviews children from such an early age onward for such a long time.
Second, the dataset looks at children’s development from different, complementary perspectives. On the one hand, this is done by asking a wide array of questions on the children’s personality and socio-emotional development and life circumstances. On the other hand, for many important concepts both parents and children are asked to rate the child, and if possible, children play incentivized games to get a completely objective measurement.
Third, a subset of the children whose families were classified to have low socio-economic status were randomized to participate in a mentoring program for one year. This randomized control trial together with the longitudinal nature and rich data on children’s development allows us to track the long-term impacts of the intervention and provide evidence on whether the social environment can make a difference.
Can you give an example of previous research that inspired your PhD studies?
There is a long-standing working paper by Markus Jäntti and co-authors, in which they contrast mobility between the United States, the United Kingdom and several northern European countries. This really made me think about the role social policy can play in leveling the playing field.