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My parents taught Me. Evidence on the family transmission of values


The paper uses questions included in the 2010 wave of the Bank of Italy’s Survey on Household Income and Wealth to investigate the role of family transmission of values. It presents three main empirical findings. First, the paper shows that a number of attitudes (generalized and personalized trusting behaviour, risk and time preferences) and outcomes (female labour force participation, fertility, entrepreneurship, productivity) are associated with the values received. Second, it documents that values received from parents are correlated with the values transmitted to descendants. Third, by using respondent moving patterns, the paper highlights that values received are slowly changing even after a discontinuity in the reference environment. Comparisons between first- and second-generation movers suggest that what matters for breaking the family chains are the formative years, when young people somehow strike a balance between the values transmitted by their parents and what they experience in the (possibly different) environment where they grow up.

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Fig. 1


  1. The neurosciences provide biological foundations on how values help people to make decisions in a complex and uncertain environment (Damasio 1994; Gigerenzer 2007).

  2. The degree to which genes and environment (the so-called nature-nurture debate) matter for the transfer of values across cohorts is the subject of an extensive body of literature recently surveyed by Sacerdote (2011), who concludes that there is sufficient evidence that both can make the difference.

  3. Details on methodology (sample design, data collection, data editing and imputation, non-response, data quality, etc.) can be found at

  4. The questionnaire for the 2010 wave (including its special section on values and other individual attitudes) can be downloaded from The data are freely available in an anonymous form for further elaboration and research.

  5. Capital letters denote the short name for the type of cultural trait, which we will use from now on.

  6. For budgetary reasons, the questions were limited to one half (a survey rotation) of the respondent heads of household.

  7. To verify if the sources of values received and values transmitted differ at least in part, we also performed a simple check of the relationship between surveyed values and basic characteristics of parents and the respondent, such as place and year of birth, finding that values received (transmitted) are relatively more (less) correlated with parents’ characteristics than with those of the respondent. Results are available upon request.

  8. The individual correlations between the values transmitted are similar.

  9. Note also that both OBEDIENCE and OBSERVANCE are negatively correlated with HOME, suggesting that familism is conceptually related to an authoritarian inclination. More puzzling is that both TOLERANCE and OBSERVANCE are negatively correlated with WORK.

  10. Intuitively, this is because the issue of scale (i.e. the absolute intensity of value transmission at individual level) is less relevant in the regression context.

  11. Note that no causal interpretation can be given to these estimates, due to the possible presence of endogeneity. The solution of this issue is beyond the scope of our analysis (see Giavazzi et al. 2013 for an attempt to disentangle causal effects from correlations).

  12. Furthermore, as noted by Dohmen et al. (2012), these coefficients are close to those obtained in other recent studies on intergenerational correlations in income, wealth, and educational attainment.

  13. However, this effect could be observed also for stayers following a change in the environment. For instance, some studies provide evidence that culture can change with economic conditions and institutional shocks (Alesina and Fuchs-Schündeln 2007; Giuliano and Spilimbergo 2014; Giavazzi et al. 2014).

  14. Note that, in some cases, the number of observations is quite small. To rule out some of the variation driven by sampling variability, we have also regressed the values received on a vector of regional dummy variables, as well as on the observable features of the respondents (age and its square, gender, education, marital status, income, work status, parent’s characteristics). As a measure of regional values, we then used the estimated coefficients on the regional dummy variables, but the graphical result was similar at all.

  15. When we look at second-generation movers, we identify the stayers as those observed in the same area where both they and their parents were born.

  16. SHIW respondents are classified into three categories on the basis of their and their parents’ area of birth and that of current residence. The survey does not allow us to identify subsequent moves or to measure the exact timing of the first move (for first-generation movers).

  17. The fact that the dummies for first-generation movers in Table 9 (panel A) are always positive (even if not significant) could suggest that migrants are (everything else being equal) more tolerant, obedient, etc. We looked at this issue more deeply by comparing results with raw and de-meaned data. We find that the positive coefficient seems to depend on a higher absolute intensity of values transmitted, rather than on different cultural preferences.

  18. A similar result can be found in the intergenerational literature on outcomes such as income and education. There, however, the inference is generally based on a comparison of sibling and neighbourhood correlations (for a review, see Björklund and Jäntti 2009).

  19. For this exercise, we exclude respondents whose parents’ origin is unknown and first-generation movers. We have also pooled stayers, first-generation movers, and second-generation movers, with very similar results to those documented in the text.

  20. Note that this classification gives higher representativeness to migrants. In particular, the estimates in Table 10 are based on 396 first-generation movers and 129 second-generation movers.

  21. We also replicated this analysis by using the sample of Table 10 (panel B), obtaining the same result.


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We thank Fabio Panetta, Federico Perali, Federico Signorini, Luca Stanca, Luca Zarri, and the participants at seminars held at the Bank of Italy (Rome, November 2012), the University of Bicocca (Milan, February 2013), and the University of Verona (Verona, June 2013) for their useful suggestions, and Daniel Dichter and Jennifer Ann Parkinson for their editorial assistance. We are also grateful to Alessandro Cigno (the Editor) and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments. All remaining errors are ours. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institution they are affiliated with.

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Correspondence to Giuseppe Albanese.

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Responsible editor: Alessandro Cigno

Appendix A. Descriptions of the socio-economic outcomes of Section 3

Appendix A. Descriptions of the socio-economic outcomes of Section 3

TRUSTGEN is a measure of generalized trust obtained using the first factor from a factor analysis of the next seven items of the 2010 wave of SHIW designed to elicit the degree of trust towards different kinds of people: “Could you please indicate your degree of trust of the following groups: 1) your family; 2) your friends; 3) your neighbours; 4) another resident of your region; 5) an Italian from a different region; 6) a foreigner from another European country; 7) a foreigner from outside the European Union”, where respondents have to rate their trust for each different category on a 10-point scale (see Albanese et al. 2013 for more details).

TRUSTPAR is a measure of particularized trust obtained using the second factor from the factor analysis described above.

RISK AVERSION is a qualitative indicator based on the following question: “In managing your financial investments, would you say you have a preference for investments that offer: (1) very high returns, but with a high risk; (2) a good return, with a fair degree of protection; (3) a fair return, with a good degree of protection; (4) low returns, with no risk”.

IMPATIENCE is a qualitative indicator based on the following imaginary situation: “You have won the lottery and will receive a sum equal to your household’s net annual income. You will receive the money in a year’s time. However, if you give up part of the sum you can collect the rest of your win immediately”, with the respondent given five choices (from 20 to 0 %) for the fraction they are willing to give up.

ENTREPRENEUR is a dummy equal to 1 if the respondent is an entrepreneur (or was an entrepreneur before retiring).

FEMALE LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION is a dummy equal to 1 if a female respondent is employed or unemployed.

FEMALE FERTILITY is the number of children for female respondents.

LOG(WAGES) is the log of labour income.

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Albanese, G., De Blasio, G. & Sestito, P. My parents taught Me. Evidence on the family transmission of values. J Popul Econ 29, 571–592 (2016).

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  • Family
  • Values
  • Cultural transmission
  • Persistence

JEL classification

  • Z1
  • D10
  • C83