Research / BFI Working PaperJun 03, 2021

Family Background, Neighborhoods and Intergenerational Mobility

Magne Mogstad, Gaute Torsvik

This paper reviews the literature on intergenerational mobility. While our review is centered around the large empirical literature on this topic, we also give a brief discussion of some of the relevant theory. We consider three strands of the empirical literature. First, we discuss how to measure intergenerational persistence in various socio-economic outcomes. We discuss both measurement challenges and some notable findings. We then turn to quantifying the importance of family environment and genetic factors for children’s outcomes. We describe the pros and cons of various approaches as well as key findings. The third strand is concerned with drawing causal inferences about how children’s outcomes are affected by specific features of their family environment. We discuss a wide range of environmental features, including the neighborhoods in which children grow up. We critically assess what conclusions one may and may not draw from certain celebrated studies of neighborhoods and intergenerational mobility.

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