Diverging Mobility Trajectories: Grandparent Effects on Educational Attainment in One- and Two-Parent Families in the United States

Abstract

In recent years, sociological research investigating grandparent effects in three-generation social mobility has proliferated, mostly focusing on the question of whether grandparents have a direct effect on their grandchildren’s social attainment. This study hypothesizes that prior research has overlooked family structure as an important factor that moderates grandparents’ direct effects. Capitalizing on a counterfactual causal framework and multigenerational data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this study examines the direct effect of grandparents’ years of education on grandchildren’s years of educational attainment and heterogeneity in the effects associated with family structure. The results show that for both African Americans and whites, grandparent effects are the strongest for grandchildren who grew up in two-parent families, followed by those in single-parent families with divorced parents. The weakest effects were marked in single-parent families with unmarried parents. These findings suggest that the increasing diversity of family forms has led to diverging social mobility trajectories for families across generations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The model results combine estimates and standard errors from 20 multiple imputed data sets to account for uncertainty associated with missing data. The missing cases account for less than 20 % of the whole sample. Model estimates based on complete cases and multiple imputed data sets show similar results of the grandparent effects. See Falaris and Peters (1998) for a discussion of the potential impact of missing data in the PSID on schooling estimates.

  2. 2.

    I also experimented with using the average education rather than the highest education of parents and grandparents. The results are consistent with those presented in the article.

  3. 3.

    In particular, a test of interactions between Ā ij and the age group covariate shows little evidence of variations in multigenerational effects by cohort.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Cameron Campbell, Dwight Davis, Hao Dong, Benjamin Jarvis, Rahim Kurwa, James Lee, Robert Mare, Arah Onyebuchi, Sung Park, Judea Pearl, Judith Seltzer, John Sullivan, Donald Treiman, Amber Villalobos, Aolin Wang, Yu Xie, and Xiaolu Zang for their valuable suggestions. Any remaining errors are the sole responsibility of the author. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (SES-1260456). The author also benefited from facilities and resources provided by the California Center for Population Research at UCLA (CCPR), which receives core support (R24-HD041022) from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

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Song, X. Diverging Mobility Trajectories: Grandparent Effects on Educational Attainment in One- and Two-Parent Families in the United States. Demography 53, 1905–1932 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0515-5

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Keywords

  • Multigenerational mobility
  • Grandparents
  • Family structure
  • Education