Research in Higher Education

, Volume 50, Issue 7, pp 623–648 | Cite as

Capital Conversion and Accumulation: A Social Portrait of Legacies at an Elite University

  • Nathan D. MartinEmail author
  • Kenneth I. Spenner


Legacies, or students with a family member who graduated from the same college or university, have been the source of much debate. We add to the existing literature by providing a detailed empirical portrait of legacies at a private, selective university across the college years. We examine how legacies are distinctive in their admissions profiles, within-college achievement and post-graduation plans, using data from a panel study of students attending Duke University. We find that legacies enter college with an abundance of economic, cultural and social capital, but also have lower levels of human capital compared to other students with college graduate parents. Due to this human capital deficit, legacies have lower grades in the first college year, but show little academic underperformance in subsequent semesters. Additionally, legacies are less likely to plan to be a medical doctor or engineer and have somewhat lower degree aspirations than other students.


Academic achievement College admissions Cultural capital Human capital Postsecondary education 



The authors gratefully acknowledge grants supporting this research from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Duke University. The authors bear sole responsibility for the contents of this article. An earlier version was presented at the 2008 American Sociological Association Annual Meetings. We would like to thank Sarah Mustillo for assistance with the data, and the Editor and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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