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The Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree (WP-02-17)

Greg Duncan, Ariel Kalil, Susan E. Mayer, Robin Tepper, and Monique R. Payne

We use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), the Children of the NLSY, and from a study in Prince George's County, Maryland, to assess the relationship between 17 characteristics of mothers measured during adolescence and the same characteristics of their children, also measured during adolescence. We find positive correlations between specific characteristics of parents and children. But we also find that few parental characteristics predict characteristics of children other than the same one that is measured in parents. Four mechanisms might explain such correlations — socioeconomic resources, parenting practices, genetic inheritance, and role modeling. These four mechanisms make varying predictions about which parental traits will be correlated with which child traits; whether the traits of fathers or mothers should be more important to sons or daughters; and to what extent parental socioeconomic characteristics, parenting behaviors, and children’s identification with their parents account for the observed correlations. Our evidence provides little support for the SES and parenting explanations, but more substantial support that role modeling may account for some of the intergenerational correlations, and genetic factors may account for others.

Greg Duncan, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University

Ariel Kalil, Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

Susan E. Mayer, Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

Robin Tepper, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Monique R. Payne, Graduate Fellow, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

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