Is a College Degree still the Great Equalizer?: Intergenerational Mobility across Levels of Schooling in the US
Florencia Torche

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



New York University

Primary Discipline

A college degree is claimed to provide the most important avenue for intergenerational mobility in contemporary American society, but virtually no empirical research assesses this claim. A quarter-century ago, research demonstrated that there is a strong intergenerational class association among individuals without a college degree, but the association virtually disappears for college graduates. In other words, a college degree appeared to fulfill the promise of meritocracy – erasing the advantages of origin in the competition for economic success. This project comprehensively studies whether the “meritocratic power” of a college degree persists today, after substantial expansion and diversification of the post-secondary educational system. Drawing on several datasets – the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, the General Social Survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and the National Education Longitudinal Studies – I provide a comprehensive evaluation of intergenerational mobility in terms of social class, socioeconomic status, individual earnings, and total family income across levels of schooling, among men and women. Preliminary findings from the analysis suggest that, as a quarter-century ago, the intergenerational association is strong among those with less than a college degree, but it disappears or substantially weakens among college graduates. Surprisingly, the influence of social origins on economic position reemerges among advanced degree-holders, leading to a U-shaped pattern of parental influence across levels of schooling. This project systematically examines diverse mechanisms accounting for this U-shaped pattern of mobility.
About Florencia Torche

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