Project Completed: May 2012
Most Americans believe that a society that accommodates substantial inequalities in individual outcomes is acceptable as long as every person has an equal opportunity to succeed. But those who hold this view often overlook the possibility that inequality of outcomes in one generation may lead to inequality of opportunities in the next. Wealthy families can afford to invest more in their children than poor families, and many of these investments—books, computers, private tutorials, travel, quality education from pre-school to graduate school—may enhance the development of skills that lead to future success in an increasingly competitive world. In these, and countless other ways, well-off parents seek to transmit their advantages to their children. And, the greater the disparity between rich and poor in one generation, the greater the inequality experienced by their children in the next.
Under the direction of Timothy Smeeding of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, John Ermisch of the University of Essex, and Markus Jäntti of the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) at Stockholm University, this project—including fourteen individual studies across ten countries— explores the relationship between parental socioeconomic status (SES) and mobility-relevant skills and attributes at different stages of development (early childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood). The researchers seek to provide a better understanding of how family resources are correlated with individual outcomes at various points during development, and how those relationships may differ over the life course and between countries. The project assembles information about the institutional differences between countries that moderate the relationship between parental resources and how their children fare later in life. If, for example, family resources are strongly related to cognitive outcomes in early childhood, it may be that subsequent public investments in after-school or summer-enrichment programs might reduce or even equalize those differences by the time children reach adolescence.
The fourteen studies fall into three categories. The first set focuses on analyses of cross-national cognitive tests, such as the PISA (math, science, and reading scores measured at age 15) and the PIRLS (reading literacy measured at age 9-10) that are collected in multiple countries and contain uniform test scores. The second set involves cross-country comparisons that will examine differences between countries at a single developmental stage. The final set is largely national in focus and will use longitudinal data to examine the correlation of mobility-relevant skills with family SES over the life course. Each of the national studies will harmonize its data with other countries in order to provide cross-national comparisons.