Reconsidering the ‘meritocratic power of a college degree’

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Previous research has shown that the intergenerational transmission of advantage disappears once individuals obtain a bachelor's degree. This is known as the equalization thesis: the ‘meritocratic power’ of a college degree. This paper revisits the question of origin-destination association among college graduates. We improve on earlier studies by using three large sample (40,000+) of the National Survey of College Graduates, consisting of birth cohorts between 1938 and 1985. Contrary to the equalization thesis, we find that parental education and parental income are associated with substantially higher post-college incomes. An individual's own attainment only partially mediates the association through the type of college attended, but not through attaining an advanced degree. The consistency of the origin-destination estimates across three decades supports a reproduction thesis of mobility.




Witteveen, D., & Attewell, P. (2020). Reconsidering the ‘meritocratic power of a college degree.’ Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

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