This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Your Parents Matter When it Comes to Your Occupational Status

America has always been viewed as a land of opportunity, but some people have more opportunities than others to succeed occupationally. This is a point driven home in a paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by social demographer Michael Hout of New York University. 
I present a time series of intergenerational occupational mobility between 1994 and 2016, using data from the GSS (9). (The GSS began in 1972 but did not ask about mother’s occupation until 1994.) The GSS recently recoded all occupational data to the latest standards established by the US Census Bureau, allowing comparisons of all years.
Occupational status persists across generations in the United States to a degree incompatible with the popular theme of “land of opportunity.” Data from 1994–2016 show that median occupational status rose 0.5 point for every one-point increase in parents’ status (somewhat less if the father was absent). Intergenerational persistence did not change during these years, but mobility declined from two-thirds of people born in the 1940s to half of those born in the 1980s. This substantial decline in absolute mobility reflects the changing distribution of occupational opportunities in the American labor market, not intergenerational persistence.
We parents want our children to do well in life, and Professor Hout's research suggests that successful couples are more likely than others to have successful children. This kind of perpetuation of inequality was not such a big deal, suggests Hout, when occupational mobility was high and everyone had a good shot at being socioeconomically better off than their parents. Today's economy has fewer opportunities for upward mobility, so the persistence of parental benefits emerges as a bigger deal than it might have seemed in the past.

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