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An examination of paternal and maternal intergenerational transmission of schooling


More educated parents are observed to have better educated children. However, previous research has found conflicting results regarding the role of fathers and mothers: in most cases, a strong positive paternal effect was found with a negligible maternal effect; in fewer cases, opposite results were found. In this paper, I use a sample of Norwegian twins to evaluate the impact of sample size and sample selection on the estimates’ robustness: results concerning the effect of mother’s education are very sensitive to the sample size, while the selection of the sample seems to be a key to reconciling previous results.

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  1. Antonovics and Goldberger (2005) criticize that the sample used by Behrman and Rosenzweig (2002) includes very young children (also younger than 18 years old) for whom the final level of education cannot be observed and has been substituted with parents’ expectations. However, De Hann and Plug (2009) propose and compare different methodologies to treat censored observations of the education variable and conclude that using parental expectations if they were realizations seems to deal relatively well with censoring problems.

  2. Register data provide a personal identifier from which we can extract month and year of birth but not the day. Therefore, it is possible that one child could be born just before the stroke of midnight on the last day of the month and his/her own twin just after midnight on the next day and the next month. However, we are probably missing very few and random cases.

  3. Holmlund et al. (2008) selected children aged over 22, Antonovics and Goldberger (2005) from 18 years old, and Behrman and Rosenzweig (2002) include also children younger than 18.

  4. Also, Holmlund et al. (2008) cannot distinguish between monozygotic and dizygotic twins, while the sample employed by Behrman and Rosenzweig (2002) is composed only of monozygotic twins.

  5. Source: Norwegian Standard Classification of Education, Revised (2000), Official Statistics of Norway, C 751, Statistics Norway.

  6. The number of siblings and children is drawn from the register data in the year 1993, which is the first wave available. Therefore, both siblings and children need to be alive in 1993 to be observed and included in the samples.

  7. The omission of this variable may bias the effect of the twins’ schooling, if earnings of the other parent are correlated with twin’s education (e.g., richer men get married with better educated women). On the other hand, the inclusion of observed earnings may bias downwards the effect of the other parent’s schooling, since observed earnings depend on education. Register data contain annual earnings but not hours of work; therefore, a yearly earnings equation has been estimated and residuals included in the model.

  8. The average effect of the twins-parents’ education for the mixture of monozygotic and dizygotic twins is β MIX = 0.5β M + 0.5β D . In this exercise, β D is approximated by the effect estimated with the sample of close siblings.

  9. I draw 1,000 samples of each different size (from 100, 200, ..., to 1,600 families).

  10. I draw 1,000 samples of each different size (from 100, 200, ..., to 1,600 families), from which I select families where both twins are low/high educated.

  11. Black et al. (2005) have a sample of low educated mothers of around 40,000 cases.


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I thank my Ph.D. supervisor John Ermisch, Rolf Aaberge, Richard Berthoud, Ugo Colombino, Francesco Figari, Helena Holmlund, Cheti Nicoletti, and Steve Pudney for their comments. I am very grateful to two anonymous referees whose precious comments and suggestions improved my work and to Deborah Cobb-Clark for the invaluable advice. The financial support received by the Norwegian Research Council and the European Research Council are gratefully acknowledged. Any error should be attributed to the author.

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Correspondence to Chiara Pronzato.

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Pronzato, C. An examination of paternal and maternal intergenerational transmission of schooling. J Popul Econ 25, 591–608 (2012).

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  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Education
  • Twin-estimator

JEL Classification

  • C23
  • I2