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Hard Skills, Soft Skills: The Relative Roles of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills in Intergenerational Social Mobility

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionHsin, Amy, and Yu Xie. "Hard Skills, Soft Skills: The Relative Roles of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills in Intergenerational Social Mobility." PSC Research Report No. 12-755. February 2012.

In this article, we adopt a two-step strategy to assess the relative roles of cognitive and non-cognitive skills in mediating the relationship between family SES and children's academic achievement using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. First, we decompose the total effects of family background on children's achievement into: (1) direct effects of family background, and (2) indirect effects via cognitive and non-cognitive skills. We estimate this model using skills alternatively measured at four points in time between kindergarten and the 5th grade. Second, we use growth curve and fixed effect models to study the changing relationship between family background and skill formation over time. Overall, we find that cognitive skills are stronger mediators of family SES than non-cognitive skills. This is both because non-cognitive skills are less predictive of later achievement and because they are less affected by family SES. However, the mediating role of non-cognitive skills grows over time because the effect of family SES on non-cognitive skills significantly increases over a child's life-course. Our findings raise important questions regarding the role of non-cognitive skills in intergenerational social mobility.

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