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Do Grandparents and Great-Grandparents Matter? Multigenerational Mobility in the U.S., 1910-2013 (WP-16-15)

Joseph Ferrie, Catherine Massey, and Jonathan Rothbaum

Studies of U.S. intergenerational mobility focus almost exclusively on the transmission of (dis)advantage from parents to children. Until very recently, the influence of earlier generations could not be assessed even in long-running longitudinal studies such as the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The researchers directly link family lines across data spanning 1910 to 2013 and find a substantial “grandparent effect” for cohorts born since 1920, as well as some evidence of a “great-grandparent effect.” Although these may be due to measurement error, they conclude that estimates from only two generations of data understate persistence by about 20 percent.

Joseph Ferrie, Professor of Economics and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

Catherine Massey, Assistant Research Scientist, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan

Jonathan Rothbaum, Economist, U.S. Census Bureau

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