Income and education – a heritage
“Like father like son” and “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, they say. Now a new report from Ifau (Institutet för arbetsmarknads- och utbildningspolitisk utvärdering or the Institute for Evaluation of Labor Market and Education Policy) shows that those sayings also imply income and education levels and you can also extend the saying to include “Like grandfather like grandson” because we inherit our income and educational levels from further back than our parents.
The report shows that income and education can go back as far as four generations. Says Anna Sjögren, Associate Professor and economist and one of the four co-authors of the report: “Other studies in this genre look at parents and children and show that education and income are two things you inherit, but that eventually it wears off. Our study shows that there’s a much stronger connection than expected.”

900 families studied
The group of researchers took a look at 900 families beginning with the generation that was born at the end of the 19th century. The last and fourth generation was born at the end of the 1980’s. The purpose of the study is to look at how income and education levels are inherited – and the co-authors call their discovery “amazing”. They call to attention, for instance, the fact that if your grandparents belong to those with the 20% highest incomes, then you, as a grandchild, have a 50% greater chance to end up in the same income top. The same goes with education. Ancestors with higher levels of education, have grandchildren with higher levels of education as well. Conversely, though, descendants of low-skilled workers are “only slightly overrepresented” among people who today have only a primary education. Says Sjögren: “The correlation is stronger at the top of the distribution of both income and education. Among other things, this is because in the early 1900's, the vast majority of the population had only minimum levels of training. Not having taken the lower school certificate does not necessarily say anything about their true potential. It is partly a function of the education division, which at the time was so incredibly skewed.” However, if your grandparents had more than a primary education in their luggage, chances are you belong to a more well-educated group today. Sjögren says this has not only to do with education per se. “It has to do with ‘something else’ that carries on through families for generations, possibly some sort of family culture that lives on as a tradition, and is difficult to measure.”


For more info on the research institute, see Institute for Evaluation of Labor Market and Education Policy