Unequal Chances

Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success

Samuel Bowles
Herbert Gintis
Melissa Osborne Groves
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 320
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    Unequal Chances
    Book Description:

    Is the United States "the land of equal opportunity" or is the playing field tilted in favor of those whose parents are wealthy, well educated, and white? If family background is important in getting ahead, why? And if the processes that transmit economic status from parent to child are unfair, could public policy address the problem? Unequal Chances provides new answers to these questions by leading economists, sociologists, biologists, behavioral geneticists, and philosophers.

    New estimates show that intergenerational inequality in the United States is far greater than was previously thought. Moreover, while the inheritance of wealth and the better schooling typically enjoyed by the children of the well-to-do contribute to this process, these two standard explanations fail to explain the extent of intergenerational status transmission. The genetic inheritance of IQ is even less important. Instead, parent-offspring similarities in personality and behavior may play an important role. Race contributes to the process, and the intergenerational mobility patterns of African Americans and European Americans differ substantially.

    Following the editors' introduction are chapters by Greg Duncan, Ariel Kalil, Susan E. Mayer, Robin Tepper, and Monique R. Payne; Bhashkar Mazumder; David J. Harding, Christopher Jencks, Leonard M. Lopoo, and Susan E. Mayer; Anders Björklund, Markus Jäntti, and Gary Solon; Tom Hertz; John C. Loehlin; Melissa Osborne Groves; Marcus W. Feldman, Shuzhuo Li, Nan Li, Shripad Tuljapurkar, and Xiaoyi Jin; and Adam Swift.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3549-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis and Melissa Osborne Groves
    (pp. 1-22)
    Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis and Melissa Osborne Groves

    Citizens of modern democratic societies hold strongly meritocratic values. Equal opportunity for educational and occupational advancement can and should ensure that each child have a fair chance of economic success. At the same time, parents have the right and the duty to prepare their children as best they can for a secure economic future. These two values may conflict, but a moderate positive correlation between the economic success of parents and children is arguably compatible with both, since this may be interpreted as a sign that most parents are preparing their children well, and that only a small minority are...

    (pp. 23-79)
    Greg Duncan, Ariel Kalil, Susan E. Mayer, Robin Tepper and Monique R. Payne

    Decades of social science research have documented correlations between the social, educational, behavioral, and economic outcomes of parents and children. For example, children of more highly educated and economically successful parents tend themselves to complete more schooling and earn more, although the intergenerational correlations are well below unity.

    Children of parents who smoke, take drugs, commit crimes, and engage in early sex are more likely to do the same compared with children whose parents do not engage in these activities. Positive correlations have also been established for social-psychological dispositions such as depression, emotional withdrawal, and locus of control. Here too...

  6. Chapter Two THE APPLE FALLS EVEN CLOSER TO THE TREE THAN WE THOUGHT: New and Revised Estimates of the Intergenerational Inheritance of Earnings
    (pp. 80-99)
    Bhashkar Mazumder

    Previous estimates of the intergenerational elasticity in earnings between fathers and sons in the United States that have been based on the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) have underestimated the degree of persistence in earnings. These studies have typically used short-term averages of fathers’ earnings as a proxy for lifetime economic status and have not fully adjusted for the potential bias due to serially correlated transitory shocks and the age at which fathers’ earnings are observed. New empirical evidence using the long-term earnings histories of fathers and sons and the use of a new...

    (pp. 100-144)
    David J. Harding, Christopher Jencks, Leonard M. Lopoo and Susan E. Mayer

    Most Americans endorse the ideal of equal opportunity, and many interpret this ideal as requiring that children from different backgrounds have an equal chance of achieving economic success. Most Americans also recognize that children whose parents have “all the advantages” are more likely to prosper than children whose parents lack these advantages. Reducing the correlation between parental advantages and children’s economic success has therefore become a prominent goal of liberal social policy, especially since the 1960s. This chapter investigates how the correlation of American adults’ family incomes with their parents’ characteristics changed between 1961 and 1999.

    Our approach to measuring...

  8. Chapter Four INFLUENCES OF NATURE AND NURTURE ON EARNINGS VARIATION: A Report on a Study of Various Sibling Types in Sweden
    (pp. 145-164)
    Anders Björklund, Markus Jäntti and Gary Solon

    Understanding the sources of earnings inequality is a central topic in labor economics. Indeed, accounting for the rise in earnings inequality that has occurred in most developed countries over the last quarter-century probably has been the field’s most active research area in recent years (Katz and Autor 1999). Another active area of inequality research has focused on the role of family and community origins. One line of this research has used sibling correlations to measure the proportion of earnings variation that can be attributed to the family and community background factors that siblings have in common. The basic idea is...

  9. Chapter Five RAGS, RICHES, AND RACE: The Intergenerational Economic Mobility of Black and White Families in the United States
    (pp. 165-191)
    Tom Hertz

    This chapter demonstrates that the observed degree of intergenerational economic mobility in the United States depends critically on the race of the parents. Using a representative sample of 6,273 African American and white families observed over thirty-two years and in two generations, I first confirm that the intergenerational correlation in long-run average income in the United States is on the order of 0.4 or higher, consistent with the findings surveyed in Solon (1999) and Bowles and Gintis (2002), and extended by Mazumder (this volume). I then show that this correlation is driven to a large extent by black families’ especially...

    (pp. 192-207)
    John C. Loehlin

    Psychologists, sociologists, and others have been interested in parent-offspring resemblance for a long time, and have calculated many parentoffspring correlations for personality and attitude measures since the 1930s—maybe longer, but I will not be going back farther than that.

    The reasons for this interest have varied. Sociologists and anthropologists have been concerned with the transmission of attitudes and values from one generation to the next. Economists (as evidenced in this volume) have explored cross-generational transmission of status. Developmental psychologists have been interested in the mechanisms whereby children come to resemble their parents in attitudes and personality. Most such psychologists...

    (pp. 208-231)
    Melissa Osborne Groves

    Educational attainment, cognitive performance, and the receipt of wealth transfers have been shown to be strong indicators of economic success across occupations and explanatory variables in the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status. Research also suggests, however, that these three mechanisms are not able to explain the bulk of the large intergenerational persistence of earnings. Few researchers have explored the economic implications of the transmission of personality that occurs in the household. While personality has been shown to be highly heritable through a combination of environmental and genetic mechanisms and rewarded in the labor market, its influence on the transmission of...

    (pp. 232-255)
    Marcus W. Feldman, Shuzhuo Li, Nan Li, Shripad Tuljapurkar and Xiaoyi Jin

    Rural Chinese society has historically been dominated by a rigid malecentered patrilineal family system, and virilocal marriage remains overwhelmingly dominant. Under this system, parents call in a daughter-in-law for each of their sons, and all sons are entitled to stay home after marriage and coreside with their parents for a period of time until family division occurs or until both of their parents pass away. A son’s offspring use his father’s surname to continue the family lineage. Family property is usually inherited equally among all sons, and sons are obliged to take care of their parents in their old age....

  13. Chapter Nine JUSTICE, LUCK, AND THE FAMILY: The Intergenerational Transmission of Economic Advantage From a Normative Perspective
    (pp. 256-276)
    Adam Swift

    Many regard it as unfair that a person’s prospects should depend on her parent’s position in the distribution of advantage. Inequalities of outcome are sometimes justified, but their being so depends on their being the outcome of a competition played on a more or less level playing field, in which all participants had something approximating equal opportunity for success. But, as parents, we seem morally justified in acting partially to further the interests of our children, at least to some extent (Nagel 1991), and few of those who value equality of opportunity argue that the family should be abolished. Now,...

    (pp. 277-296)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 297-304)