With inequality on the rise over the past three decades, many have pointed to America's higher education system as a pathway to intergenerational improvement for the children of the poor and working class. But with high tuition rates and admissions policies often favoring the children of alumni, there is reason to doubt whether college-going is a realistic vehicle for the poor to achieve social progress.
With support from the Foundation, economists Robert Haveman, Timothy Smeeding, and Kathryn Wilson will explore whether America is becoming a "hereditary meritocracy" in which wealthier families transmit their advantages to their children by giving them access to an increasingly better education than the children of the poor receive. They will compare two cohorts of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, an intergenerational longitudinal study of 4800 families that has been running since 1968. For each cohort, the researchers will measure the correlations among family socioeconomic status (SES), subsequent educational attainment, and eventual socioeconomic attainment. They will use multiple measures of SES and multiple estimation techniques to test the sensitivity of their findings to the methods used. This project is a part of an international comparative study of the role of education in social mobility now being organized by Professor John Goldthorpe of Nuffield College, Oxford and Professor Robert Erikson of Stockholm University. The results of this research will be published in several journal articles.