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The Intergenerational Transmission of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills during Adolescence and Young Adulthood

  • Silke Anger

This study examines cognitive and non-cognitive skills and their transmission from parents to children as one potential candidate to explain the intergenerational link of socio-economic status. Using representative data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, we contrast the impact of parental cognitive abilities (fluid intelligence, crystallized intelligence) and personality traits (Big Five, locus of control) on their adolescent and young adult children's traits with the effects of parental background and childhood environment. While for both age groups intelligence and personal traits were found to be transmitted from parents to their children, there are large discrepancies with respect to the age group and the type of skill. The intergenerational transmission effect was found to be relatively small for adolescent children, with correlations between 0.12 and 0.24, whereas the parent-child correlation in the sample of adult children was between 0.19 and 0.27 for non-cognitive skills, and up to 0.56 for cognitive skills. Thus, the skill gradient increases with the age of the child. Furthermore, the skill transmission effects are virtually unchanged by controlling for childhood environment or parental education, suggesting that the socio-economic status of the family does not play a mediating role in the intergenerational transmission of intelligence and personality traits. The finding that non-cognitive skills are not as strongly transmitted as cognitive skills, suggests that there is more room for external (non-parental) influences in the formation of personal traits. Hence, it is more promising for policy makers to focus on shaping children's non-cognitiveskills to promote intergenerational mobility. Intergenerational correlations of cognitive skills in Germany are roughly the same or slightly stronger than thosefound by previous studies for other countries with different institutional settings. Intergenerational correlations of non-cognitive skills revealed for Germany seem to be considerably higher than the ones found for the U.S.. Hence, skill transmission does not seem to be able to explain cross-country differences in socio-economic mobility.

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File URL: http://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.407855.de/diw_sp0473.pdf
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Paper provided by DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 473.

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Length: 39 p.
Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp473
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  1. Blanden, Jo & Gregg, Paul & Macmillan, Lindsey, 2007. "Accounting for Intergenerational Income Persistence: Noncognitive Skills, Ability and Education," IZA Discussion Papers 2554, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 2000. "Identifying the Role of Cognitive Ability in Explaining the Level of and Change in the Return to Schooling," NBER Working Papers 7820, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Anger, Silke & Heineck, Guido, 2010. "Cognitive Abilities and Earnings – First Evidence for Germany," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 699-702.
  4. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP): Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 1, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  5. Anne C. Case & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects of Family and Neighborhood on Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Silke Anger & Guido Heineck, 2010. "Do smart parents raise smart children? The intergenerational transmission of cognitive abilities," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 23(3), pages 1105-1132, June.
  7. John Ermisch, 2008. "Origins of Social Immobility and Inequality: Parenting and Early Child Development," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 205(1), pages 62-71, July.
  8. James Heckman & Flavio Cunha, 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 31-47, May.
  9. Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2009. "Like father, like son? A note on the intergenerational transmission of IQ scores," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 105(1), pages 138-140, October.
  10. Eric A. Hanushek & Ludger Woessmann, 2008. "The Role of Cognitive Skills in Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(3), pages 607-68, September.
  11. Groves, Melissa Osborne, 2005. "How important is your personality? Labor market returns to personality for women in the US and UK," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 26(6), pages 827-841, December.
  12. Ermisch, John & Francesconi, Marco, 2001. "Family Matters: Impacts of Family Background on Educational Attainments," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 68(270), pages 137-56, May.
  13. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1991. "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents," NBER Working Papers 3804, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Kenneth A. Couch & Thomas A. Dunn, 1995. "Intergenerational Correlations in Labor Market Status: A Comparison of the United States and Germany," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 111, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  15. Guido Heineck & Silke Anger, 2008. "The Returns to Cognitive Abilities and Personality Traits in Germany," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 836, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  16. Brown, Sarah & McIntosh, Steven & Taylor, Karl, 2009. "Following in Your Parents' Footsteps? Empirical Analysis of Matched Parent-Offspring Test Scores," IZA Discussion Papers 3986, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  17. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2002. "The Inheritance of Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 3-30, Summer.
  18. Susan E. Mayer & Greg Duncan & Ariel Kalil, 2004. "Like Mother, Like Daughter? SES and the Intergenerational correlation of Traits, Behaviors and Attitudes," Working Papers 0415, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  19. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
  20. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," NBER Working Papers 12006, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Thorsten Vogel, 2006. "Reassessing Intergenerational Mobility in Germany and the United States: The Impact of Differences in Lifecycle Earnings Patterns," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2006-055, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
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