Charting How Wealth Shapes Educational Pathways from Childhood to Early Adulthood: A Developmental Process Model

  • Matthew A. DiemerEmail author
  • Aixa D. Marchand
  • Rashmita S. Mistry
Empirical Research


Wealth plays a pervasive role in sustaining inequality and is more inequitably distributed than household income. Research has identified that wealth contributes to children’s educational outcomes. However, the specific mechanisms accounting for these outcomes are unknown. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and its supplements, SEM was used to test a hypothesized longitudinal chain of mediating processes. Framed by the parent investment model, this study tracks children and their parents over twenty-seven years, from pre-birth to early adulthood. The analytic sample was comprised of 1247 young people who were between 6–12 years of age (M= 5.66, SD= 2.12) in 1997, the first wave of the PSID’s Child Development Supplement. This analytic sample was roughly equivalent by gender (N= 774; 53% identified as female and N= 693; 47% identified as male). The racial/ethnic background of participants was nearly an equal split between individuals who identified as White (N= 666; 45%) or Black (N= 634; 43%), with an additional 7% (N= 97) who identified as “Hispanic,” 2% (N= 40) as “Other,” 1% (N= 20) as Asian or Pacific Islander, and less than 1% (N= 6) who identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native. The results indicated that wealth (a) engenders parental and child processes—primarily expectations and achievement—that promote educational success, (b) plays a different role across the life course, and (c) that pre-birth wealth has a significant mediated relationship to educational attainment seventeen years later. These findings advance understanding of specific mediating mechanisms by which wealth may foster children’s educational success across the life course, as well as how wealth may differentially shape educational outcomes in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.


Wealth Economic resources Inequality Social class 



The first author was supported by a grant from Poverty Solutions, at the University of Michigan. Thank you to Fabian Pfeffer for his insights about wealth, stratification, and the PSID and thank you to Meichu Chen for her assistance wrangling the PSID dataset for this research.

Authors’ Contributions

MD conceived of the study, coordinated and conducted data analyses, and coordinated writing; AM conducted data analyses, contributed to the conceptual framework and to writing; RM contributed to the conceptual framework, interpretation of analyses and to writing. All authors contributed to the writing of, read, and approved of the final manuscript.


The first author was supported by a grant from Poverty Solutions, at the University of Michigan.

Data Sharing and Declaration

These publicly available data are freely available online, via the PSID Data Center.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This research was conducted in accordance with American Psychological Association standards for the conduct of research. This research was deemed not human subjects research at the University of Michigan, because it analyzes publicly available data that contains no identifiers (i.e., the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics, or PSID).

Informed Consent

Informed consent is not applicable to this secondary analysis of publicly available data, the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID).

Supplementary material

10964_2019_1162_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (85 kb)
Supplementary Information
10964_2019_1162_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (293 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew A. Diemer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Aixa D. Marchand
    • 2
  • Rashmita S. Mistry
    • 3
  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Rhodes CollegeMemphisUSA
  3. 3.University of California-Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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