Inequalities in Childhood Learning Skills and Intergenerational Mobility

Robert G. White, University of Florida

The close link between economic inequality and intergenerational mobility is widely attributed to the large effects of family background on educational attainment. Alongside long-run increases in the returns to education, the persistence of family background effects may account for a particularly important part of trends in intergenerational mobility. This paper asseses the pathways underlying family background effects by examining the changing importance of achievement, behavior and health during childhood for intergenerational income mobility. A method for decomposing the relative contributions of these three sets of influences on adult attainment is applied using birth cohorts from 1958 and 1970 in the United Kingdom. While mathematics and reading achievement in adolescence contribute the largest shares to estimates of intergenerational income mobilty, they also display declining importance. In contrast, measures of introvertedness and attention show large and increasing contributions and early health a stable contribution to intergenerational income mobility.

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Presented in Session 205: Intra- and Intergenerational Mobility in the U.S. and U.K.