Opportunity Begets Merit: Mobility and Heritability in Education

Per Engzell , University of Oxford
Felix C. Tropf, University of Oxford

Sociologists and other social scientists have studied how educational privilege is transmitted across generations, often with the implicit understanding that the channels of transmission are mainly environmental in origin. In contrast, studies in behavior genetics compare outcomes for siblings with a varying degree of genetic resemblance and typically assign an important role to genetic factors. In this study we unite genetically and sociologically informed designs by drawing on two recent global efforts to synthesize estimates from each. We test, and find support for, the hypothesis that in high-inequality regimes where schooling is strongly transmitted from parent to child, the environmental channel is relatively more important. Conversely, in egalitarian systems where family background is less pronounced, genetic factors gain in explanatory power. Far from suggesting a trade-off between the objectives of mitigating the impact of family background and rewarding innate endowment, our results indicate that these objectives go hand in hand.

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 Presented in Session 124. Flash Session: Causes and Consequences of Educational Inequalities