From Parents to Children: The Intergenerational Transmission of Advantage

Russell Sage Foundation
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Does economic inequality in one generation lead to inequality of opportunity in the next? In From Parents to Children, an esteemed international group of scholars investigates this question using data from ten countries with differing levels of inequality. The book compares whether and how parents' resources transmit advantage to their children at different stages of development and sheds light on the structural differences among countries that may influence intergenerational mobility. How and why is economic mobility higher in some countries than in others? The contributors find that inequality in mobility-relevant skills emerges early in childhood in all of the countries studied. Bruce Bradbury and his coauthors focus on learning readiness among young children and show that as early as age five, large disparities in cognitive and other mobility-relevant skills develop between low- and high-income kids, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. Such disparities may be mitigated by investments in early childhood education, as Christelle Dumas and Arnaud Lefranc demonstrate. They find that universal pre-school education in France lessens the negative effect of low parental SES and gives low-income children a greater shot at social mobility. Katherine Magnuson, Jane Waldfogel, and Elizabeth Washbrook find that income-based gaps in cognitive achievement in the United States and the United Kingdom widen as children reach adolescence. Robert Haveman and his coauthors show that the effect of parental income on test scores increases as children age; and in both the United States and Canada, having parents with a higher income betters the chances that a child will enroll in college. As economic inequality in the United States continues to rise, the national policy conversation will not only need to address the devastating effects of rising inequality in this generation but also the potential consequences of the decline in mobility from one generation to the next. Drawing on unparalleled international datasets, From Parents to Children provides an important first step.
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About the author

JOHN ERMISCH is professor of family demography at Oxford University. MARKUS JäNTTI is professor of economics at the Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University. TIMOTHY M. SMEEDING is director of the Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Russell Sage Foundation
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Published on
May 1, 2012
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Pages
524
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ISBN
9781610447805
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Language
English
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Genres
Family & Relationships / General
Social Science / General
Social Science / Social Classes & Economic Disparity
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Americans like to believe that theirs is the land of opportunity, but the hard facts are that children born into poor families in the United States tend to stay poor and children born into wealthy families generally stay rich. Other countries have shown more success at lessening the effects of inequality on mobility—possibly by making public investments in education, health, and family well-being that offset the private advantages of the wealthy. What can the United States learn from these other countries about how to provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal chance in life? Making comparisons across ten countries, Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting brings together a team of eminent international scholars to examine why advantage and disadvantage persist across generations. The book sheds light on how the social and economic mobility of children differs within and across countries and the impact private family resources, public policies, and social institutions may have on mobility. In what ways do parents pass advantage or disadvantage on to their children? Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting is an expansive exploration of the relationship between parental socioeconomic status and background and the outcomes of their grown children. The authors also address the impact of education and parental financial assistance on mobility. Contributors Miles Corak, Lori Curtis, and Shelley Phipps look at how family economic background influences the outcomes of adult children in the United States and Canada. They find that, despite many cultural similarities between the two countries, Canada has three times the rate of intergenerational mobility as the United States—possibly because Canada makes more public investments in its labor market, health care, and family programs. Jo Blanden and her colleagues explore a number of factors affecting how advantage is transmitted between parents and children in the United States and the United Kingdom, including education, occupation, marriage, and health. They find that despite the two nations having similar rates of intergenerational mobility and social inequality, lack of educational opportunity plays a greater role in limiting U.S. mobility, while the United Kingdom’s deeply rooted social class structure makes it difficult for the disadvantaged to transcend their circumstances. Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook examine cognitive and behavioral school readiness across income groups and find that pre-school age children in both the United States and Britain show substantial income-related gaps in school readiness—driven in part by poorly developed parenting skills among overburdened, low-income families. The authors suggest that the most encouraging policies focus on both school and home interventions, including such measures as increases in federal funding for Head Start programs in the United States, raising pre-school staff qualifications in Britain, and parenting programs in both countries. A significant step forward in the study of intergenerational mobility, Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting demonstrates that the transmission of advantage or disadvantage from one generation to the next varies widely from country to country. This striking finding is a particular cause for concern in the United States, where the persistence of disadvantage remains stubbornly high. But, it provides a reason to hope that by better understanding mobility across the generations abroad, we can find ways to do better at home.
In Poor Kids in a Rich Country, Lee Rainwater and Timothy Smeeding ask what it means to be poor in a prosperous nation - especially for any country's most vulnerable citizens, its children. In comparing the situation of American children in low-income families with their counterparts in fourteen other countries—including Western Europe, Australia, and Canada—they provide a powerful perspective on the dynamics of child poverty in the United States. Based on the rich data available from the transnational Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), Poor Kids in a Rich Country puts child poverty in the United States in an international context. Rainwater and Smeeding find that while the child poverty rate in most countries has been relatively stable over the past 30 years, child poverty has increased markedly in the United States and Britain—two of the world's wealthiest countries. The book delves into the underlying reasons for this difference, examining the mix of earnings and government transfers, such as child allowances, sickness and maternity benefits, unemployment insurance, and other social assistance programs that go into the income packages available to both single- and dual-parent families in each country. Rainwater and Smeeding call for policies to make it easier for working parents to earn a decent living while raising their children—policies such as parental leave, childcare support, increased income supports for working poor families, and a more socially oriented education policy. They make a convincing argument that our definition of poverty should not be based solely on the official poverty line—that is, the minimum income needed to provide a certain level of consumption—but on the social and economic resources necessary for full participation in society. Combining a wealth of empirical data on international poverty levels with a thoughtful new analysis of how best to use that data, Poor Kids in a Rich Country will provide an essential tool for researchers and policymakers who make decisions about child and family policy.
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