Intergenerational Persistence of Skills and Socioeconomic Status

Abstract

This paper describes how the socioeconomic status (SES) of parents relates to the formation and development of the skills and preferences of their teenage children, which have proven to be key to understanding differences in life outcomes. The study used data from a novel survey, conducted in Mexico, that recorded cognitive and non-cognitive skills and social preferences of both parents and children. It analyzed the relationship between the SES of parents and their children’s skills, and found that children’s skills were consistently related to parental skills, and that intergenerational persistence of skills was higher for cognitive than for non-cognitive skills or social preferences. It also found that the cognitive skills gap between the first and fifth quintile of SES was related mainly to characteristics like parents’ own skills, years of schooling, and aspirations for their children, but that these parental characteristics were less important in explaining non-cognitive skills and preferences.

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Fig. 1

Source: Author’s calculations using SMS-2015

Fig. 2

Source: Author’s calculations using SMS-2015

Fig. 3

Source: Author’s calculations using SMS-2015

Fig. 4

Source: Author’s calculations using SMS-2015

Notes

  1. 1.

    Urban population is defined as that in communities of 100,000 or more inhabitants. The sample includes individuals from 23 states and 86 municipalities. The dataset is available at http://movilidadsocial.colmex.mx/. Torche (2014) describes the other datasets available for Mexico. These surveys only interview one adult in the household (not teenagers) and do not include a measurement of preferences, skills, or environment when growing up (stress in the household of origin). However, these datasets are nationally representative and not only at the urban level.

  2. 2.

    More precisely, 97.2% of the sample consists of parent–child relationships. The rest of the sample consists of relationships of stepparent–stepchild (1.5%), grandparent–grandchild (0.8%), aunt/uncle–nephew/niece (0.2%), and other relationships (0.3%).

  3. 3.

    I thank an anonymous reviewer for this observation.

  4. 4.

    Results were similar using a simple average or a principal component analysis.

  5. 5.

    Complete regression results are reported in the supplementary materials. There was an age bonus in the intelligence results, as older teenagers scored better than younger ones. Also, girls scored 0.11 standard deviations lower than boys. Skill of the parent means the skill of either the mother or father.

  6. 6.

    This methodology has a long tradition in sociology (Alwin and Hauser 1975; Duncan 1966), and recently in economics, in decompositions of intergenerational transmission coefficients (Mood et al. 2012). This decomposition is different from the traditional Oaxaca–Blinder decomposition. The latter separates the contribution of observable characteristics and returns, while the former distinguishes how much of the socioeconomic gradient is accounted for by observable characteristics.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful for comments from Mariano Bosch, Isidro Soloaga, Sergio Urzua, and participants at the following conferences: “Skills: Measurements, Dynamics, and Effects,” hosted by the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association; “The Intergenerational Transmission of Economic Status: Exposure, Heritability, and Opportunity,” organized by the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid; and the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. I also wish to thank Cristobal Domínguez for excellent research assistance and two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their thoughtful comments and suggestions. Any errors or omissions are solely my responsibility.

Funding

This work was supported by the Sectorial Fund for Research on Social Development of the Mexican National Council on Science and Technology (CONACyT) and the Secretary of Social Development (SEDESOL) (Project No. 217909). The Espinosa Yglesias Research Center provided financing for a research assistant and a roundtable with academics to discuss the survey.

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Correspondence to Raymundo M. Campos-Vazquez.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments.

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Campos-Vazquez, R.M. Intergenerational Persistence of Skills and Socioeconomic Status. J Fam Econ Iss 39, 509–523 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-018-9574-7

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Keywords

  • Skills
  • Preferences
  • Intergenerational
  • Persistence
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Mexico