, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 1033–1068 | Cite as

Growing Wealth Gaps in Education

  • Fabian T. PfefferEmail author


Prior research on trends in educational inequality has focused chiefly on changing gaps in educational attainment by family income or parental occupation. In contrast, this contribution provides the first assessment of trends in educational attainment by family wealth and suggests that we should be at least as concerned about growing wealth gaps in education. Despite overall growth in educational attainment and some signs of decreasing wealth gaps in high school attainment and college access, I find a large and rapidly increasing wealth gap in college attainment between cohorts born in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. This growing wealth gap in higher educational attainment co-occurred with a rise in inequality in children’s wealth backgrounds, although the analyses also suggest that the latter does not fully account for the former. Nevertheless, the results reported here raise concerns about the distribution of educational opportunity among today’s children who grow up in a context of particularly extreme wealth inequality.


Wealth Education Inequality Cohort change 



This work was supported by an award from the Spencer Foundation (Grant No. 201300139) and the Russell Sage Foundation. The collection of data used in this study was partly supported by the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. R01HD069609) and the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1157698). Any opinions expressed are those of the author alone and should not be construed as representing the opinions of the funding agencies. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at meetings of the Population Association of America, the American Sociological Association, and the Research Committee on Social Inequality and Mobility (RC28). I thank Sheldon Danziger, Thomas DiPrete, Alexandra Killewald, and Robert Schoeni for helpful comments on an earlier version. A replication package containing the data and code used for this article is available through the PSID Public Data Extract Repository at

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© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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