Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting

Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting: The Comparative Study of Intergenerational Mobility

Timothy M. Smeeding
Robert Erikson
Markus Jäntti
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 392
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    Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting
    Book Description:

    Americans like to believe that theirs is the land of opportunity, but the hard facts are that children born into poor families in the United States tend to stay poor and children born into wealthy families generally stay rich. Other countries have shown more success at lessening the effects of inequality on mobility—possibly by making public investments in education, health, and family well-being that offset the private advantages of the wealthy. What can the United States learn from these other countries about how to provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal chance in life? Making comparisons across ten countries, Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting brings together a team of eminent international scholars to examine why advantage and disadvantage persist across generations. The book sheds light on how the social and economic mobility of children differs within and across countries and the impact private family resources, public policies, and social institutions may have on mobility. In what ways do parents pass advantage or disadvantage on to their children? Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting is an expansive exploration of the relationship between parental socioeconomic status and background and the outcomes of their grown children. The authors also address the impact of education and parental financial assistance on mobility. Contributors Miles Corak, Lori Curtis, and Shelley Phipps look at how family economic background influences the outcomes of adult children in the United States and Canada. They find that, despite many cultural similarities between the two countries, Canada has three times the rate of intergenerational mobility as the United States—possibly because Canada makes more public investments in its labor market, health care, and family programs. Jo Blanden and her colleagues explore a number of factors affecting how advantage is transmitted between parents and children in the United States and the United Kingdom, including education, occupation, marriage, and health. They find that despite the two nations having similar rates of intergenerational mobility and social inequality, lack of educational opportunity plays a greater role in limiting U.S. mobility, while the U.K.’s deeply rooted social class structure makes it difficult for the disadvantaged to transcend their circumstances. Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook examine cognitive and behavioral school readiness across income groups and find that pre-school age children in both the United States and Britain show substantial income-related gaps in school readiness—driven in part by poorly developed parenting skills among overburdened, low-income families. The authors suggest that the most encouraging policies focus on both school and home interventions, including such measures as increases in federal funding for Head Start programs in the United States, raising pre-school staff qualifications in Britain, and parenting programs in both countries. A significant step forward in the study of intergenerational mobility, Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting demonstrates that the transmission of advantage or disadvantage from one generation to the next varies widely from country to country. This striking finding is a particular cause for concern in the United States, where the persistence of disadvantage remains stubbornly high. But, it provides a reason to hope that by better understanding mobility across the generations abroad, we can find ways to do better at home.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-754-6
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction (pp. 1-26)

    The Abundant evidence in the economic, demographic, and sociological literature of the association between parents’ and children’s social positions makes it very clear that children’s chances for a good life are highly dependent on their social origins or socioeconomic status (SES). More-educated, richer, two-earner couples at higher levels of social and economic status have children later in life and do so in more stable marriages. As a result, they have fewer children and can therefore invest heavily in their children’s upbringing. In contrast, younger parents with less education, lower incomes, and larger numbers of children, as well as lone parents...

  6. PART I Longer-Term Framing Studies of Parental SES and Adult-Child Outcomes
    • Chapter 2 Understanding the Mechanisms Behind Intergenerational Persistence: A Comparison of the United States and Great Britain (pp. 29-72)

      Numerous U.S. and European studies in economics and sociology have attempted to measure and compare the extent of social mobility across nations with different economic systems, occupational hierarchies, and values.¹ Much of the economics research is reviewed in Gary Solon (2002), Miles Corak (2006), Anders Björklund and Markus Jäntti (1997, 2009), and Jo Blanden (forthcoming). Recent cross-national studies by sociologists and demographers are also relevant, including Robert Erikson and John Goldthorpe (2002), Richard Breen and Jan Jonsson (2005), and Emily Beller and Michael Hout (2006).

      Research from both traditions provides evidence that the overall level of social mobility in the...

    • Chapter 3 Economic Mobility, Family Background, and the Well-Being of Children in the United States and Canada (pp. 73-108)

      Among the many things the citizens of the United States and Canada share in common is a perspective that informs and defines their self-image and social goals. In particular, the histories and cultures of these two countries have been shaped by newcomers seeking opportunities and better lives. The idea of “equality of opportunity,” in which inherited aspects of family background play a secondary role to individual motivation, talents, and energy in determining economic success, is an important part of this common heritage and makes “land of opportunity” a common defining metaphor.

      Yet there are very important differences in economic outcomes...

    • Chapter 4 Status Attainment and Wealth in the United States and Germany (pp. 109-137)

      Our efforts to understand the channels through which socioeconomic advantage is transmitted across generations rely on a crucial condition: we need to identify correctly the main ingredients of advantage. In other words, we need comprehensive concepts and measures of social background. Most research on intergenerational mobility draws on indicators of educational attainment, occupational status, and income to describe the position of families and associated opportunities for children. One important feature of the economic circumstances of families that is less often included in these studies is family wealth, or net worth. Wealth is a dimension of economic well-being that presents particularly...

    • Chapter 5 Occupations and Social Mobility: Gradational, Big-Class, and Micro-Class Reproduction in Comparative Perspective (pp. 138-172)

      The purpose of this chapter is to revisit the classical sociological questions about social mobility with a new cross-national data set and a new approach to analyzing mobility data. We first present a model of mobility that estimates the net amount of gradational, occupational, and big-class reproduction, and we then apply this model to examine cross-national variability in mobility and recent trends in mobility. This chapter thus adds to a small but growing collection of recent works that are reviving and reinventing the sociological approach to studying mobility (Beller and Hout 2006; Breen 2004; Breen and Jonsson 2005; Harding et...

  7. PART II Early Childhood and Preschool Effects
    • Chapter 6 Income-Related Gaps in School Readiness in the United States and the United Kingdom (pp. 175-208)

      A large body of work has documented substantial gaps in cognitive and behavioral outcomes between low- and higher-income children at the start of school (see, for example, Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997; Taylor, Dearing, and McCartney 2004). There is mounting evidence from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and psychology that these early skill gaps have long-term consequences for children’s educational performance and their economic and social well-being in adulthood (Knudsen et al. 2006; Rouse, Brooks-Gunn, and McLanahan 2005). Particularly in today’s labor market, which increasingly rewards skills and penalizes those with low levels of education, gaps in early skills and...

    • Chapter 7 Economic Deprivation in Early Childhood and Adult Attainment: Comparative Evidence from Norwegian Registry Data and the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (pp. 209-234)

      Family influences early in life play an important role in children’s development. It is well documented in studies from Europe and the United States that the family environments of young children are important predictors of cognitive and behavioral skills, as well as of outcomes later in life, such as education, labor market participation, earnings, health, and crime (d’Addio 2007). In particular, the literature shows that children of families with low income and education have substantially worse prospects for success in life than other children (Duncan, Ziol-Guest, and Kalil 2010; Holzer et al. 2007).

      The early childhood period may be especially...

  8. PART III Education
    • Chapter 8 Causal Effects of Parents’ Education on Children’s Education (pp. 237-260)

      The association between the educational attainments of parents and those of their children has been one of the measures featured in the study of intergenerational mobility. It has been either the focus itself or part of the exploration of the reasons for earnings, income, or social class persistence—the opposite of mobility (see, for example, chapter 2, this volume). Parental education is, of course, just one aspect of family background that influences children’s subsequent achievements as adults, but it is an important one. For instance, parents’ educational attainments may have a large impact on their earnings, alter the productivity of...

    • Chapter 9 Children’s Cognitive Ability and Parents’ Education: Distinguishing the Impact of Mothers and Fathers (pp. 261-286)

      Discussion of transmission of socioeconomic status from parents to children needs to consider gender differences in both generations. Parents pass on a measure of their advantage or disadvantage to their children, and it is clearly of interest whether fathers pass on more than mothers, and whether it is sons or daughters who gain or lose more from the transmission. A number of authors have produced important insights into the different strengths of the gender-specific parent-child links. Their studies have been motivated in particular by the desire to distinguish the role of mothers. Notable examples include Jere Behrman (1997) from economics...

  9. PART IV Direct Monetary Transfers
    • Chapter 10 Unequal Giving: Monetary Gifts to Children Across Countries and over Time (pp. 289-328)

      There is a long history and a sizable body of research that cuts across disciplinary fields on how families, parents in particular, affect the outcomes of their children over a child’s lifetime. Early influential studies on status attainment motivated research that shed light on how parents’ educational and occupational attainment influenced that of their children. A related vein of research focuses on the importance of family support at a particular time in a child’s life, the transition to adulthood (see, for example, Marini 1978; Sandefur, Eggerling-Boeck, and Park 2005; Schoeni and Ross 2005). As Robert Schoeni and Karen Ross (2005)...

  10. PART V Social and Labor Market Institutions
    • Chapter 11 The Role of Social Institutions in Intergenerational Mobility (pp. 331-368)

      The primary goal of intergenerational mobility (IGM) research has always been to explain how and why social origins influence people’s life chances. This focus has naturally placed family attributes at center stage. But the role of social institutions—most notably education systems—as a mediating factor has also been central to IGM theory. Indeed, generations of stratification research were premised on the core assumption that equalizing access to education would weaken the impact of social origins. In theory, policies and institutions, as well as macroeconomic and historical contexts, have been identified as crucial in shaping patterns of social mobility (d’Addio...

  11. Index (pp. 369-380)


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