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Which background factors matter more in intergenerational educational attainment: Social class, cultural capital or cognitive ability? A random effects approach


  • Mads Meier Jæger

    (Danish National Institute for Social Research, Copenhagen)

  • Anders Holm

    (Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen)


The sociological research literature on intergenerational educational attainment has highlighted three types of theoretical frameworks in explaining to what extent social origins influences people’s educational choices and possibilities. The three explanatory frameworks are 1) the socio-economic situation in the upbringing, 2) the “cultural capital” of the home (e.g. the level of education of the parents), and finally 3) the cognitive abilities of the individual. While all three explanatory frameworks have been shown empirically to be of significance in explaining people’s educational attainment when analyzed individually or two at a time, then only very few studies have simultaneously included all three frameworks and thus been able to present a coherent picture of the influence of social origins on educational attainment vis-à-vis individual ability. As a consequence very little knowledge exists on the relative significance of each of the three explanatory frameworks in explaining educational attainment when analyzed in a common, multivariate setting. Using data from the Danish Youth Longitudinal Panel Survey we analyse the relative significance of each of the proposed explanatory frameworks in explaining intergenerational educational attainment. By means of a multinomial random effects logit model we find father’s social class to be the strongest predictor of educational attainment followed by father’s level of education and finally cognitive ability. Furthermore, we find that the direct effect of father’s level of education is complex in that it to some extent is transmitted via cognitive ability and is more vulnerable to unobserved characteristics captured in the random effect.

Suggested Citation

  • Mads Meier Jæger & Anders Holm, 2003. "Which background factors matter more in intergenerational educational attainment: Social class, cultural capital or cognitive ability? A random effects approach," CAM Working Papers 2003-05, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics. Centre for Applied Microeconometrics.
  • Handle: RePEc:kud:kuieca:2003_05

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    Cited by:

    1. Anna Christina D'Addio, 2007. "Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility Across Generations?," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 52, OECD Publishing.


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