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The Inheritance of Economic Status: Education, Class, and Genetics

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  • Samuel Bowles
  • Herbert Gintis

Abstract

The perpetuation of a family's position in the distribution of income from parents to children reflects the genetic and cultural transmission of individual traits, as well as the inheritance of group memberships and income-earning assets. We show that the extent of intergenerational economic status transmission is considerably greater than was thought to be the case a generation ago, the genetic inheritance of traits contributing to the cognitive skills measured on IQ and related tests explains very little of the intergenerational transmission of economic status, even if the heritability of IQ is quite high, and the combined genetic and cultural inheritance processes operating through superior wealth, cognitive levels, and educational attainments of those with well-off parents, while important, do not fully explain the intergenerational transmission of economic status. We identify some overlooked idividual traits that enhance economic success that are transmitted across generations.

Suggested Citation

  • Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2001. "The Inheritance of Economic Status: Education, Class, and Genetics," Working Papers 01-01-005, Santa Fe Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:01-01-005
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Miles Corak & Andrew Heisz, 1999. "The Intergenerational Earnings and Income Mobility of Canadian Men: Evidence from Longitudinal Income Tax Data," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(3), pages 504-533.
    2. Durlauf, S.N., 1997. "The Memberships Theory of Inequality: Ideas and Implications," Working papers 9711r, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    3. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1994. "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," NBER Chapters,in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 257-298 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Markus Jäntti & Eva Österbacka & Oddbjörn Raaum & Tor Eriksson & Anders Björklund, 2002. "Brother correlations in earnings in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden compared to the United States," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 15(4), pages 757-772.
    5. Anders Björklund & Markus Jäntti, 2000. "Intergenerational mobility of socio-economic status in comparative perspective," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 26, pages 3-32.
    6. Oded Galor & Joseph Zeira, 1993. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 35-52.
    7. Miller, Paul W & Mulvey, Charles & Martin, Nick, 1995. "What Do Twins Studies Reveal about the Economic Returns to Education? A Comparison of Australian and U.S. Findings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 586-599, June.
    8. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
    9. Bowles, Samuel, 1972. "Schooling and Inequality from Generation to Generation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(3), pages 219-251, Part II, .
    10. Gintis, Herbert, 1971. "Education, Technology, and the Characteristics of Worker Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(2), pages 266-279, May.
    11. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-429, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ben-Halima, B. & Chusseau, N. & Hellier, J., 2014. "Skill premia and intergenerational education mobility: The French case," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 50-64.
    2. Dilip Mookherjee & Debraj Ray, 2002. "Is Equality Stable?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 253-259, May.
    3. Simon Burgess & Karen Gardiner & Carol Propper, 2006. "School, Family and County Effects on Adolescents’ Later Life Chances," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 27(2), pages 155-184, June.
    4. Justine Burns & Malcolm Keswell, 2011. "Inheriting the Future: Intergenerational Persistence of Educational status in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 71, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    5. Morand, O.F., 2004. "Inequality, mobility, and the transmission of ability," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 533-545, September.

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