Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Italy’s pallid growth

that parents’ education (measured by the highest educational attainment in the coupl e of parents) play a significant role in the level of individual achievements, 20 and that this effect is stronger in the south than in the north, meaning that the likelihood of earning a high income despite poorly educated parents is far lower in southern regions. Put differently, southern regions have less social mobility, and are therefore subject to wasting children’s potential in the labou r force, ultimately harming the country’s long -term growth. The dysfunctionality of education in southern Italy may also increase inequalities of opportunity, further reducing the economy’s long - term growth potential. A study conducted by the OECD’s progr am PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) assessed the reading ability of 15-year-old students through a 3-hour test of reading literacy, using a standardized scoring system with an international mean of 500 and standard deviation of 100. The data for Italy in the year 2000 showed striking variance across 5 macro- regions, even when accounting for school types. The country’s average score in a sample of 4946 students was 491. The average score in high schools in north-western regions was 572 against 503 in the south, and corresponding values for vocational schools were 473 and 398, respectively. If we assume the region of living and type of secondary school attended are broadly out of a 15-year- old’s control, and accept that, according to evide nce, these affect the opportunities and intergenerational outcomes of people in Italy, we can thus identify inequality of opportunity because of the unequal distribution of cognitive abilities of students. Factors that may explain the cause of unequal opportunities between Italy’s regions are geographical disadvantages and differences in collaborative norms. Italian and European industries have been, and still are, reluctant to invest their time and money in southern Italy, especially inland, because of physical disadvantages, such as vast distances between markets, inaccessible terrain, and a lack of natural resources and waterways. 21 Southern Italians also suffer from greater geographical immobility of labour, meaning they are less likely to access their ideal job due to deficiencies in local infrastructure, reducing the country’s long -term growth potential. The result (regional inequality) has been linked with the deterioration of social relations, as trust has been shown to decline with higher inequality. 22 Indeed, a 2016 study conducted by the LSE 23 found, using a sample of nearly 700 ‘ordinary’ 24 citizens, that people’s norms of cooperation differed consistently between Italy’s regions. These people could contribute to a group project with other citizens from their city that would double the contributions and distribute them equally among all group members. The results show that people living in Cuneo, a medium-size city in Piedmont, trusted 50 per cent of the time, while people living in Ragusa, Sicily, trusted only 35 per cent of the time (Fig.3). This provides evidence to suggest that there is a regional difference in collaborative norms. The study also found that the two macro- regions are ‘similar in te rms

20 Further evidence supporting the effect parental education has on a child’s outcomes can be found in Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’ (2009), in chapter 12: ‘Social mobility: unequal opportunities’. 21 Alampi 2007. 22 Wilkinson and Pickett 2009. 23 Vieira 2016. 24 I cannot be certain of the criteria that was used in the selection process and will assume that there are no biases at play.


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