Skip to main content

Heterogeneity in the intergenerational transmission of educational attainment: evidence from Switzerland on natives and second-generation immigrants


This study applies rich data from the 2000 Swiss census to investigate the patterns of intergenerational education transmission for natives and second-generation immigrants. The level of secondary schooling attained by youth aged 17 is related to their parents’ educational outcomes based on data on the entire Swiss population. Extending economic theories of child educational attainment, we derive hypotheses regarding the patterns of intergenerational education transmission. The data yield substantial heterogeneity in intergenerational transmission across population groups. Only a small share of this heterogeneity is explained by the predictions of economic theory.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. As an example of the risks of uninformed educational policies, Machin (2004) shows that the expansion of the British education system in the 1970s and 1980s caused a decline in educational mobility and disproportionately benefited the children of the rich.

  2. The share of permanent residents in the foreign population increased from about 10 percent in the early 1960s to 38 percent 1970, and 72 percent in 2000 (BFS 1988, 2004a).

  3. For a descriptive study of the transition after mandatory school see Amos et al. (2003).

  4. Our data provide very similar distributions. Hupka (2003) also presents the distribution across training pathways by parental socioeconomic status: among the children of parents in the bottom quartile of the status distribution only 6 percent attend advanced school, compared to 48 percent among children of parents in the top quartile. A comparison by migration status shows only minor differences between natives and second generation immigrants.

  5. Ethnic capital can be considered one aspect of social capital as defined by Coleman (1988) which in part works through neighborhood effects (cf. Borjas 1995).

  6. In studies, which instead of parental education focus on indicators of social status, b is at times labeled the ‘socioeconomic gradient.’

  7. For a similar argument see Woessmann (2004) who investigates the heterogeneity of intergenerational transmission across levels of child ability.

  8. We also considered the number of coethnics, the share of highly educated coethnics, and the number of highly educated coethnics. All measures were generated both on the national and the regional level. The chosen indicator is closest to Borjas’ (1992) concept of ethnic capital and yielded the clearest results.

  9. H, I, and R are subsets of the previously specified covariate vector X.

  10. If unobserved household characteristics are correlated with our dependent variable and the environmental factors (S) our estimates do not yield unbiased causal effects of the environmental factors. Therefore, we interpret our results as descriptive and indicative of correlation patterns rather than as clean measures of causal mechanisms.

  11. Since the youth’s status in the household is only indicated as child of head of household we would not be certain which of the same sex partners would be the true parent.

  12. Out of the difference in 12,988 youths 4.8 percent were lost due to same sex household heads, 72.3 percent because the youth did not indicate to be child of the head of the household—possibly because they lived by themselves already—and for about 19.4 percent of the lost 17 year olds we could not match their true parents. For about 453 youth (or 3.5 percent) we had no information on their current level of schooling.

  13. However, not all reflect factual differences because the values for missing parents in single-parent households are set to zero, and enter the calculation of the means.

  14. The correlation patterns in intergenerational education may also be estimated without controlling for parental earnings, which are proxied here by occupation. In that case the potential (liquidity) effect of earnings would be added to the effect of education as it is measured here.

  15. For an analysis of the relevance of institutional differences such as the age of tracking pupils in secondary schools see Bauer and Riphahn (2005). A similar analysis is presented by Moser and Berweger (2005).

  16. The share of individuals not speaking the municipal language among those from former Yugoslavia or Albania exceeds the second generation immigrant average . Similarly, their parents are much less likely to hold Swiss citizenship than the immigrant average .

  17. Coefficients and standard errors are available from the authors upon request. The model for natives yielded a McFadden’s R 2 value of 8.8, that for second generation immigrants which controlled for additional covariates yielded a value of 10.8.

  18. The coefficient estimates of interaction effects are not presented to save space. The probability of high educational attainment was again predicted and average d after setting the education of both parents jointly to either low, middle, or high.

  19. Similar results were obtained when grouping regions by an urban–rural classification as provided by BFS (1997), when additionally controlling for the degree of urbanity in a municipality, and when using high youth labor force participation as an alternative indicator of high opportunity cost of eduction. The findings for second generation immigrants were generally confirmed when evaluating the evidence separately by country of origin.

  20. In estimations by country of origin with substantively smaller samples the interaction terms were jointly statistically significant only for youths from Italy and Spain.

  21. This outcome does not appear in educational transition matrices calculated separately by number of siblings. The hypothesis that the effect is due to a concentration of single parents in the group of one child families was rejected in separate estimations for dual parent families only, as well. Interestingly, Wolter and Coradi Vellacott (2002) find the same correlation pattern in different data from Switzerland. Black et al. (2005) confirm this pattern with Norwegian data.

  22. The insignificant ethnic capital effect is confirmed in all country of origin-specific estimations. Borjas (1992) suggests to also consider labor force participation rates in the destination country as an indicator of ethnic capital. We reestimated the ethnic capital interactions using regional female ethnic labor force participation rates. The results were confirmed.

  23. The data are taken from the CIA database

  24. To evaluate the robustness of our findings we reestimated the model for the educational outcomes of the children of low educated parents applying a multinomial logit estimator. The results confirm findings obtained using the ordered probit framework.


  • Amos J, Böni E, Donati M, Hupka S, Meyer T, Stalder BE (2003) Wege in die nachobligatorische Ausbildung. Die ersten zwei Jahre nach Austritt aus der obligatorischen Schule Zwischenergebnisse des Jugendlängsschnitts TREE, Bildungsmonitoring Schweiz, Bundesamt für Statistik, Neuchâtel

  • Bauer P, Riphahn RT (2005) Timing of school tracking as a determinant of intergenerational transmission of education. Mimeo, University of Basel

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker GS, Lewis HG (1973) On the interaction between quantity and quality of children. J Polit Econ 81(2, Part 2):S279–S288

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Belzil C, Hansen J (2003) Structural estimates of the intergenerational education correlation. J Appl Econ 18(6):679–696

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Björklund A, Lindahl M, Plug E (2004) Intergenerational effects in Sweden: what can we learn from adoption data?, Discussion paper No. 1194. IZA

  • Black S, Devereux P, Salvanes KG (2005) The more the merrier? the effect of family composition on children’s education. Q J Econ 120(2):669–700

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borjas GJ (1992) Ethnic capital and intergenerational mobility. Q J Econ 107(1):123–150

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borjas GJ (1993) The intergenerational mobility of immigrants. J Labor Econ 11(1, pt.1):113–135

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borjas GJ (1995) Ethnicity, neighborhoods, and human-capital externalities. Am Econ Rev 85(3):365–390

    Google Scholar 

  • Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS) (1988) Statistisches Jahrbuch der Schweiz 1988. Verlag Neue Züricher Zeitung, Zürich

    Google Scholar 

  • Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS) (1997) Die Raumgliederung der Schweiz. Mimeo, BFS, Neuchatel

    Google Scholar 

  • Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS) (2004a) Statistisches Jahrbuch der Schweiz 2004. Verlag Neue Züricher Zeitung, Zürich

    Google Scholar 

  • Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS) (2004b) Pressemitteilung: Vermehrte Zuwanderung hochqualifizierter Arbeitskräfte. BFS, Neuchâtel

    Google Scholar 

  • Card D, DiNardo J, Estes E (2000) The more things change: immigrants and the children of immigrants in the 1940s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. In: Borjas GC (ed) Issues in the economics of immigration. University of Chicago Press, Chicago London, pp 227–269

    Google Scholar 

  • Chiswick BR (1988) Differences in education and earnings across racial and ethnic groups: tastes, discrimination, and investments in child quality. Q J Econ 103(3):571–597

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coleman JS (1988) Social capital in the creation of human capital. Am J Sociol 94(supplement):S95–S120

    Google Scholar 

  • Corak M, Lipps G, Zhao J (2004) Family income and participation in post-secondary education, IZA Discussion Paper No. 977, Bonn

  • Hupka S (2003) Ausbildungssituation und-verläufe: Übersicht. In: Amos J et al (eds) Wege in die nachobligatorische Ausbildung. Die ersten zwei Jahre nach Austritt aus der obligatorischen Schule Zwischenergebnisse des Jugendlängsschnitts TREE, Bildungsmonitoring Schweiz, Bundesamt für Statistik, Neuchâtel, pp. 33–58

  • Machin SJ (2004) Education systems and intergenerational mobility, paper presented at the CESifo/PEPG Conference on schooling and human capital formation in the global economy, September 2004, Munich

  • Moser U, Berweger S (2005) Soziale Herkunft und Mathematikleistung: Ein vertiefter Blick auf die Kantone. In: Zahner Rossier Claudia (ed) PISA 2003: Kompetenzen für die Zukunft. Zweiter nationaler Bericht, Neuchatel/Bern

    Google Scholar 

  • OECD (2002) Education at a Glance. OECD Indicators 2002. OECD, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • OECD (2004) Trends in international migration. Continuous reporting system on migration: annual report (SOPEMI). OECD, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Plug E (2004) Estimating the effect of mother’s schooling on children’s schooling using a sample of adoptees. Am Econ Rev 94(1):358–368

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Woessmann L (2004) How equal are educational opportunities? family background and student achievement in Europe and the United States, CESifo Working Paper No. 1162, Munich

  • Wolter SC, Coradi Vellacott M (2002) Sibling rivalry: a look at Switzerland with PISA Data, IZA Discussion Paper No. 594, Bonn

  • Zahner Rossler C (2005) PISA 2003: Kompetenzen für die Zukunft, Zweiter nationaler Bericht. Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS), Neuchâtel

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge the financial support from the Swiss Nation Science Foundations NRP 52 “Childhood, Youth, and Intergenerational Relationships” grant. We thank Holger Bonin, Axel Engellandt, Horst Entorf, George Sheldon, two anonymous referees, and the participants of the IZA AM2 meeting 2004 and the ZEW Education meeting 2005 for helpful comments on earlier versions, and we thank Reto Scherrer for excellent research assistance.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Regina T. Riphahn.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Christian Dustman

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bauer, P., Riphahn, R.T. Heterogeneity in the intergenerational transmission of educational attainment: evidence from Switzerland on natives and second-generation immigrants. J Popul Econ 20, 121–148 (2007).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Educational attainment
  • Second generation
  • Immigrants

JEL Classification

  • I21
  • J61