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Sibling Similarity and Difference in Socioeconomic Status: Life Course and Family Resource Effects

  • Dalton Conley
  • Rebecca Glauber
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    For decades, geneticists and social scientists have relied on sibling correlations as indicative of the effects of genes and environment on behavioral traits and socioeconomic outcomes. The current paper advances this line of inquiry by exploring sibling similarity across a variety of socioeconomic outcomes and by providing answers to two relatively under-examined questions: do siblings' socioeconomic statuses diverge or converge across the life course? And do siblings from demographic groups that putatively differ on the degree of opportunity they enjoy vary with respect to how similar they turn out? Findings inform theoretical debates over parental investment models, especially in relation to diverging opportunities and capital constraints, and life course status attainment models. We report three new findings. First, sibling resemblance in occupational prestige is explained almost entirely by shared education, and sibling resemblance in family income is explained almost entirely by the combination of shared education, occupational prestige, and earnings. This is contrasted to sibling resemblance in earnings and wealth, as siblings retain 60 percent of their resemblance in earnings once we control for education and occupational prestige, and siblings retain more than 30 percent of their resemblance in wealth once we control for all other socioeconomic outcomes. Second, across the life course, siblings converge in earnings and income and maintain stable correlations in education, occupational prestige, and wealth. Third, black siblings have significantly lower correlations on earnings and income than nonblack siblings overall, but black siblings dramatically converge in income across the life course -- in their twenties black siblings have a .181 correlation in income and above age 40 they have a .826 correlation in income -- suggesting almost complete social reproduction in income by the fifth decade of life for African Americans. This pattern does not hold for nonblack siblings. Furthermore, when we split the sample by class and age, we find the opposite effect: by age 40 and above, siblings from higher SES families tend to increase in their resemblance while those from lower SES families do not. Descriptive accounts about the openness of American society, then, strongly depend on which group we are talking about and at which stage in the life course we measure economic status.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11320.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11320.

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    Date of creation: May 2005
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11320
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    1. Susan E. Mayer & Leonard M. Lopoo, 2001. "Has the Intergenerational Transmission of Economic Status Changed?," Working Papers 0116, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
    2. Mary Corcoran & Roger H. Gordon & Deborah Laren & Gary Solon, 1989. "Effects of Family and Community Background on Men's Economic Status," NBER Working Papers 2896, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. 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.
    4. Björklund, Anders & Eriksson, Tor & Jäntti, Markus & Raaum, Oddbjørn & Österbacka, Eva, 2000. "Brother Correlations in Earnings in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden Compared to the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 158, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1979. "An Equilibrium Theory of the Distribution of Income and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1153-89, December.
    6. David Grusky & Thomas DiPrete, 1990. "Recent trends in the process of stratification," Demography, Springer, vol. 27(4), pages 617-637, November.
    7. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst, 2002. "The Correlation of Welath Across Generations," NBER Working Papers 9314, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Gary Solon & Marianne E. Page & Greg J. Duncan, 2000. "Correlations Between Neighboring Children In Their Subsequent Educational Attainment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(3), pages 383-392, August.
    9. Behrman, Jere R & Rosenzweig, Mark R & Taubman, Paul, 1994. "Endowments and the Allocation of Schooling in the Family and in the Marriage Market: The Twins Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(6), pages 1131-74, December.
    10. Behrman, Jere R & Pollak, Robert A & Taubman, Paul, 1982. "Parental Preferences and Provision for Progeny," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(1), pages 52-73, February.
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