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Choosing the right parents: changes in the intergenerational transmission of inequality between 1980 and the early 1990s


  • David I. Levine
  • Bhashkar Mazumder


This paper uses the National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS), the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), and the General Social Survey (GSS) to measure the elasticity of family income on men’s adult earnings in 1980 and the early 1990s. The study finds a large and statistically significant increase in the importance of family income over time when comparing cohorts in the NLS, a dataset that has not been previously used for this purpose. We also find a large but statistically insignificant increase when using the GSS. The PSID, however, shows a large but statistically insignificant decline in this parameter. The results imply that changes in the effect of family income did not operate through the channel of human capital. Results suggest that the rate of inheritability of income may have increased in recent decades, but this evidence is not yet definitive. Researchers, therefore, should exercise caution when generalizing about trends over time when using small samples from just one dataset such as the PSID.

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  • David I. Levine & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2002. "Choosing the right parents: changes in the intergenerational transmission of inequality between 1980 and the early 1990s," Working Paper Series WP-02-08, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhwp:wp-02-08

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    8. Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt, 1994. "The Growth of Earnings Instability in the U.S. Labor Market," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(2), pages 217-272.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jäntti, Markus & Bratsberg, Bernt & Røed, Knut & Raaum, Oddbjørn & Naylor, Robin & Österbacka, Eva & Bjørklund, Anders & Eriksson, Tor, 2005. "American exceptionalism in a new light: a comparison of intergenerational earnings mobility in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and the United States," Memorandum 34/2005, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    2. Barrett, Christopher B., 2003. "The Economics Of Poverty And The Poverty Of Economics: A Christian Perspective," Working Papers 14747, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
    3. Carlos Urrutia & Marina Mendes Tavares, 2013. "Accounting for the Trends in Inequality and Intergenerational Mobility in the U.S," 2013 Meeting Papers 1256, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    4. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2004. "Sibling similarities, differences and economic inequality," Working Paper Series WP-04-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    5. Angela R. Fertig, 2004. "Is Intergenerational Earnings Mobility Affected by Divorce?," Working Papers 953, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
    6. Levine, David I. & Jellema, Jon R., 2005. "Growth, Industrialization, and the Intergenerational Correlation of Advantage," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt2q74s1tg, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    7. Susan E. Mayer & Leonard M. Lopoo, 2005. "Has the Intergenerational Transmission of Economic Status Changed?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(1).
    8. Robert Lucas & Sari Kerr, 2013. "Intergenerational income immobility in Finland: contrasting roles for parental earnings and family income," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(3), pages 1057-1094, July.
    9. Sari Pekkala & Robert E. B. Lucas, 2004. "On the Importance of Finnishing School: Half a Century of Inter-Generational Economic Mobility in Finland," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-141, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    10. Grawe, Nathan D., 2006. "Lifecycle bias in estimates of intergenerational earnings persistence," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(5), pages 551-570, October.
    11. Nguyen, Anh & Getinet, Haile, 2003. "Intergenerational mobility in educational and occupational status: evidence from the U.S," MPRA Paper 1383, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Phillip O’Hara, 2004. "A new family-community social structure," Forum for Social Economics, Springer;The Association for Social Economics, vol. 33(2), pages 51-80, March.
    13. David I. Levine & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2003. "The growing importance of family and community: an analysis of changes in the sibling correlation in earnings," Working Paper Series WP-03-24, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    14. Anna Christina D'Addio, 2007. "Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility Across Generations?," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 52, OECD Publishing.
    15. Harding, David J. & Jencks, Christopher & Lopoo, Leonard M. & Mayer, Susan E., 2003. "The Changing Effect of Family Background on the Incomes of American Adults," Working Paper Series rwp03-045, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    16. FAN, Yi, 2016. "Intergenerational income persistence and transmission mechanism: Evidence from urban China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 299-314.
    17. Corak, Miles, 2006. "Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility," IZA Discussion Papers 1993, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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