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Flaunt them If you’ve Got them? Informal Connections and Beliefs About Prospects of Upward Mobility in Transition Economies


Expectations of future upward mobility have been shown to determine current preferences for redistribution, but how are these expectations formed? This study presents evidence that expectations of future mobility may be constrained by beliefs about how fair is access to key opportunities in life, like a good government or private sector job, or university education. Data from the Life in Transition survey show that those who believe informal connections to be vital to access these key opportunities—a widespread belief in the region—have lower expectations of future upward mobility, while access to informal connections is associated with a 40% higher expected future mobility. Finally, those who perceive access to opportunities to be unfair and mediated by informal connections also demand more redistribution, unless such connections are available to secure access to opportunities.

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  1. This paper is also related, more generally, to studies that highlight the link between deprivation and under-investment in human capital (Appadurai 2004; Alsop et al. 2006; Hoff and Pandey 2004).

  2. No data are available for Turkmenistan. Mongolia and Turkey are excluded from the analysis given the focus on Transition Economies.

  3. The details of the sampling methodology can be found on the EBRD website at

  4. One concern here is the mobility variable refers to the position of the household on the income ladder, whereas the questions about perceived importance, and availability, of connections, are asked of the individual respondent. With respect to beliefs about the importance of connections in society, expressed individually, this is not necessarily problematic, given the phrasing of the survey question, as the beliefs that are being queried are general—“how important is it in our country...”, and not “how important is it for me personally”. Likewise, it is plausible to assume that the availability of connections, while asked at the individual level, provides a reasonable approximation for the availability of such connections to the household at large.

  5. The hypothesis \(\beta _{2}=0\) is more difficult to interpret for the following reason. The responses to perceived importance of connections are on an ordinal scale and the CI=1 group is constructed as a union of “very important” and “essential” (the categories above the middle category). As such, the complementary category CI=0 is a union of “not important at all”, “somewhat important” and “moderately important”. So, the counterpart to the CI=1 category of connections being vital is not “connections being not important at all”, but rather “connections either not being important or only somewhat/moderately important”. In this sense, the availability of connections, which is what is being tested by \(\beta _{2}=0\), can still make a difference to mobility prospects. Because of this ambiguity, restricting the comparisons to the CI=1 group, as done in Hypothesis 1 (b2+ b3=0) is analytically much cleaner and more straightforward to interpret.


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The author is grateful to two anonymous reviewers as well as Andrew Clark, Ambar Narayan, Branko Milanovic, Carol Graham, Christoph Lakner, Daniel Gerszon Mahler, Ivan Torre, Madiha Afzal, Maurizio Bussolo, Peter Murrell, Rakesh Gupta N. Ramasubbaiah, Roy Van der Weide, Silvia Redaelli, Stefan Thewissen, and to the participants of the Economic History, Comparative Economics and Policy-making in Transition conference, the Equal Chances: Equality of Opportunity and Social Mobility Around the World conference, and the IBS and World Bank conference on Globalization, Work, and Distributional Tensions in Europe and Central Asia for helpful comments and suggestions, and to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for access to the data. All remaining errors are mine alone. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and should not be attributed to The World Bank Group or any affiliated organization.

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Cojocaru, A. Flaunt them If you’ve Got them? Informal Connections and Beliefs About Prospects of Upward Mobility in Transition Economies. Comp Econ Stud 65, 416–441 (2023).

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