Intergenerational mobility in socio-emotional skills
What is this research about and why did you do it?
Human development has many dimensions that are important for life course outcomes, ranging from economic variables, such as labour market earnings, to subjective well-being and health. These different dimensions of human development include cognitive abilities and socio-emotional skills; the former being skills that are important to solve problems and learn rather than actual knowledge, while the latter refer to psychological and preference parameters, such as self-esteem, personality traits (e.g., conscientiousness), risk aversion and time preferences. These different skills are correlated across generations and this plays an important (although not exclusive) role in the intergenerational transmission of inequality. The evidence on the intergenerational transmission of different types of skills is still scarce.
How did you answer this question?
We use the 1970 British Cohort Study which contains information about the main subjects of the study, who are followed from birth onwards, as well as information on the children they had by age 34. To study the dynamics of socio-emotional skills and cognition across generations, we need to define what they are and how they are measured. We follow the literature and use factor analysis to extract measures of cognitive skill and two dimensions of socio-emotional skills, namely ‘internalising' and ‘externalising', linked respectively to ability to concentrate and persevere on a task through effort and attention, and engage in interpersonal activities.
What did you find?
We show that parental skills measured during their childhood predict their child's socio-emotional skills during childhood. We compare our estimates to the ones in the intragenerational mobility in income and occupation in the United Kingdom and find somewhat higher mobility in socio-emotional skills than in labour market outcomes (Nightingale rose chart). The data we use also allows us to estimate the association of grandmothers' socio-emotional skills with the grandchildren’s socio-emotional skills, showing that the association of socio-emotional skills might be relevant across more than one generation.
The Nightingale rose chart presents a comparison of the mobility measures in skills to the mobility measures in other economic domains. The two dimensions of socio-emotional skills are denoted internalising (INT) and externalising (EXT), and measures cognitive (COG) skills of parents. All parent measures are from their childhood. The economic mobility measures come from the following studies. Bell et al. (2019) and Rohenkohl (2019) study an older cohort born respectively in 1974-83 and 1973-1991. Gregg et al. (2017) study mobility in income for the BCS70. The numbers report OLS coefficients, higher values of which correspond to lower mobility.
What implications does this have for the research on wealth concentration or economic inequality?
Our estimates of intergenerational mobility tackle two concerns from previous studies. First, the measurement of parental skills earlier in life mitigates the 'lifecyle' bias and allows us to ask if parents' skills in childhood rather than those later in their life are more predictive of their child's socio-emotional skills. Second, because socio-emotional skills are not contemporaneously measured, this mitigates concerns of children influencing their parents' skills.
What are the next steps in your agenda?
We want to understand how skills are formed and what determines parental investment in their children’s skills to understand how to address the intergenerational transmission of poverty and disadvantage.
Citation and related resources
This paper can be cited as follows: Attanasio, O., de Paula, Á., and Toppeta, A. (2022). 'Intergenerational Mobility in Socio-emotional Skills.' Working paper