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

American Journal of Sociology
Publication Documents

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 pa-
rental influence. Educational and labor market factors explain these
differences in mobility: parental resources influence college selectiv-
ity, field of study, and earnings more strongly for advanced-degree
holders than for those with a bachelor’s degree alone.