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

  • Silke Anger


    (DIW Berlin)

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 noncognitive skills to promote intergenerational mobility. Intergenerational correlations of cognitive skills in Germany are roughly the same or slightly stronger than those found 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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Paper provided by Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group in its series Working Papers with number 2011-023.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Publication status: Published in IZA Discussion Paper No. 5749
Handle: RePEc:hka:wpaper:2011-023
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  1. Eric Hanushek & Ludger Woessmann, 2008. "The Role of Cognitive Skills in Economic Development," Discussion Papers 07-034, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
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  4. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) – Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," Schmollers Jahrbuch : Journal of Applied Social Science Studies / Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, vol. 127(1), pages 139-169.
  5. Guido Heineck & Silke Anger, 2008. "The Returns to Cognitive Abilities and Personality Traits in Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 124, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  6. 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.
  7. Jo Blanden & Paul Gregg & Lindsey Macmillan & Lindsey Macmillan, 2006. "Accounting for Intergenerational Income Persistence: Non-Cognitive Skills, Ability and Education," CEE Discussion Papers 0073, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  8. 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.
  9. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J., 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," IZA Discussion Papers 2550, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. 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.
  11. Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2008. "Like Father, Like Son? A Note on the Intergenerational Transmission of IQ Scores," IZA Discussion Papers 3651, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1991. "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents," NBER Working Papers 3804, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. 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).
  14. Case, A.C. & Katz, L.F., 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects Of Family And Neighborhood On Disadvantaged Younths," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1555, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  15. James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 2001. "Identifying The Role Of Cognitive Ability In Explaining The Level Of And Change In The Return To Schooling," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(1), pages 1-12, February.
  16. Björklund, Anders & Hederos Eriksson, Karin & Jäntti, Markus, 2009. "IQ and Family Background: Are Associations Strong or Weak?," IZA Discussion Papers 4305, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  17. 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.
  18. Silke Anger & Guido Heineck, 2010. "Cognitive abilities and earnings - first evidence for Germany," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(7), pages 699-702.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
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