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Is a College Degree Still the Great Equalizer? Intergenerational Mobility across Levels of Schooling in the US

American Journal of Sociology
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A quarter century ago, an important finding in stratification research showed that the intergenerational occupational association was much weaker among college graduates than among those with lower levels of education. This article provides a comprehensive assessment of the “meritocratic power” of a college degree. Drawing on five longitudinal data sets, the author analyzes intergenerational mobility in terms of class, occupational status, earnings, and household income for men and women. Findings indicate that the intergenerational association is strong among those with low educational attainment; it weakens or disappears among bachelor’s degree holders but reemerges among those with advanced degrees, leading to a U-shaped pattern of parental influence. Educational and labor market factors explain these differences in mobility: parental resources influence college selectivity, field of study, and earnings more strongly for advanced-degree holders than for those with a bachelor’s degree alone.