In a new article in Sociology of Education (free pre-print version here), I look at the old idea that education “breaks the link” between people’s socioeconomic background as children and their own prospects as adults.
I find that this link (the intergenerational income elasticity) is strongest—and that intergenerational economic mobility is lowest—among high school dropouts. This means that, for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the usual penalty for dropping out is compounded by the fact that their lack of family-based resources matters more than it would if they earned a degree. Conversely, dropouts from advantaged backgrounds can use their family-based resources to compensate for the lack of a degree.
Earning a high school degree or more seems to weaken these family background effects.