Abstract: A centralised and egalitarian school system reduces the cost of education for poor
families, and so it should reduce income inequality and make intergenerational mobility
easier. In this paper we provide evidence that Italy, compared to the USA, displays less
income inequality, as expected given the type of school system, but also less intergenerational
upward mobility between occupations and between education levels.
We explore some of the reasons which can explain this puzzling result and conclude that
in a world in which family background is important for labor market success, a centralised
and egalitarian tertiary education does not necessarily help poor children and may take
away from them a fundamental tool to prove their talent and to compete with rich children.