Working Papers

Choosing the Right Parents

Changes in the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality Between the 1970s and the early 1990s


This paper uses the General Social survey and the comparison between the National Longitudinal Survey of Young Men and of Youth to measure how returns to young men’s family background have changed from the late 1970’s to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Coming from a wealthy family and having a well-educated father who worked in a high-prestige occupation were much more powerful predictors of a young man’s success in the later period. In contrast, maternal education was less important in determining a young man’s income and educational attainment. Rising returns to education coupled with a constant relation between family background and education explains most of the rising importance of family background.