his article proposes and applies a simple method to measure the distance from a situation of uniform participation. First, a discrepancy index based on the use of generalized Lorenz curves is presented. This index can be expressed in terms of means and Gini indices of relevant characteristics in the populations of participants and that of a control group. A multivariate extension is also illustrated. The discrepancy index is then used to analyse access into higher education in Italy during the nineties. Discrepancy between participants and non-participants is especially high in terms of parents’ wealth and education, less in terms of income. Also, discrepancy is higher during recessions. Multivariate analysis reveals that “cultural constrains” are more important than financial constraints. Hence, efforts to equalize opportunity for access into higher education should be as much focussed on motivation and social background as they are on financial constraints
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