Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 591–620 | Cite as

Cognitive skills, non-cognitive skills, and family background: evidence from sibling correlations

Original Paper


This paper estimates sibling correlations in cognitive and non-cognitive skills to evaluate the importance of family background for skill formation. Based on a large representative German dataset including IQ test scores and measures of non-cognitive skills, a restricted maximum likelihood model indicates a strong relationship between family background and skill formation. Sibling correlations in non-cognitive skills range from 0.22 to 0.46; therefore, at least one-fifth of the variance in these skills results from shared sibling-related factors. Sibling correlations in cognitive skills are higher than 0.50; therefore, more than half of the inequality in cognition can be explained by shared family background. Comparing these findings with those in the intergenerational skill transmission literature suggests that intergenerational correlations capture only part of the influence of family on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills, as confirmed by decomposition analyses and in line with previous findings on educational and income mobility.


Sibling correlations Family background Non-cognitive skills Cognitive skills Intergenerational mobility 

JEL Classification

J24 J62 



We would like to thank Anders Björklund, Markus Jäntti, Matthew Lindquist, Shelly Lundberg, Bhashkar Mazumder, and Catherine Weinberger; seminar participants of SOFI in Stockholm, UC Santa Barbara, ISER at the University of Essex, RWI Essen, the University of Hamburg, the University of Bath, the University of Bristol and The Danish National Centre for Social Research; and conference participants at the Annual Conference of the Scottish Economic Society 2013, SOLE 2013, ESPE 2013, IWAEE 2013, SMYE 2013, the 2013 Annual conference of the German Economic Association, and EALE 2013 for their useful comments and discussions. Moreover, we are grateful to the editor of this journal and to three anonymous referees for their valuable comments and helpful suggestions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Department Education and Employment over the LifecourseIAB NurembergNurembergGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Social Sciences, Economics, and Business AdministrationUniversity of BambergBambergGermany
  3. 3.Research FellowIZA BonnBonnGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Labour EconomicsLeibniz University HannoverHannoverGermany
  5. 5.SOEP DepartmentDIW BerlinBerlinGermany

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