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Status Attainment and Wealth in the United States and Germany

Publication Abstract

Pfeffer, Fabian T. 2011. "Status Attainment and Wealth in the United States and Germany." In Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting: The Comparative Study of Intergenerational Mobility edited by T. Smeeding, R. Erikson, and M. Jäntti. Russell Sage.

Research on intergenerational mobility typically conceptualizes and measures family background as any combination of parental education, parental occupation, and family income. One important feature of economic circumstances that is less frequently included in these studies is family wealth, or net worth. Wealth is a dimension of economic well-being that suffers particularly stark inequalities. These inequalities in wealth may create unequal opportunities for children over and above those created by other socio-economic characteristics of families. Recent research has begun to document strong and independent effects of parental wealth on children's educational opportunities for the United States. This paper extends this research by documenting the role of wealth for the entire status attainment process, that is, not only educational but also occupational attainment. In addition, it assesses the degree to which the association between parental wealth and attainment differs by national context. Drawing on national panel datasets – the NLSY-79, the PSID, and the GSOEP – this paper investigates how the link between wealth inequality and inequality in opportunities differs between the United States and Germany.

Countries of focus: Germany, United States of America.

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