Parental Wealth and Children's Life Chances: An Assessment of the Mechanisms Underlying the Intergenerational Effects of Wealth

Fabian T. Pfeffer, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Research on intergenerational mobility typically conceptualizes and measures family background as any combination of parental education, parental occupation and family income. One important feature of economic circumstances that is often overlooked or unexamined in these studies is family wealth, or net worth. Wealth is a dimension of economic well-being that suffers particularly stark inequalities, and thus its neglect is troubling. Severe inequalities in familial wealth may well create unequal opportunities for children over and above other socioeconomic characteristics of families. Recent research has begun to document the effects of parental wealth on children's educational opportunities. This paper extends this research by documenting the role of wealth for the entire status attainment process, i.e., not only educational but also occupational attainment. More importantly, however, this paper goes on to empirically assess the social mechanisms that underlie the association of wealth and opportunities, an important question that remains unanswered so far.

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Presented in Session 143: Intergenerational Mobility