What Skills Can Buy: Transmission of Advantage through Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills

Catherine Doren, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Eric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Although never far from social scientists’ attention, interest in the intergenerational flow of advantage and disadvantage has recently gained prominence in both academic and popular venues. Income inequality is rising (Western et al. 2012) and with it inequality in direct investments in children (Kornrich and Furstenberg 2013) and academic achievement tied to parental income (Reardon 2011). While income and wealth as resources undoubtedly contribute to the intergenerational transmission of social status, we argue that they are at least partly endogenous to parents’ cognitive and noncognitive skills and advantages bestowed by these skills rather than material resources themselves are driving much of the observed relationship between capital and children’s educational attainment. We analyze the NLSY 1979 cohort and their children to disentangle the effects of parent skills from those of resources. Preliminary findings suggest that more than half of the association of resources and educational attainment is traceable to parent skills.

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Presented in Session 232: Families and Education