Parental assortative mating and the intergenerational transmission of human capital

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We study the contribution of parental educational assortative mating to the intergenerational transmission of educational attainment. We develop an empirical model for educational correlations within the family in which parental educational sorting can translate into intergenerational transmission jointly by both parents, or transmission can originate from each parent independently. Estimating the model using educational attainment from Danish population-based administrative data for over 400,000 families, we find that on average 75 percent of the intergenerational correlation in education is driven by the joint contribution of the parents. We also document a 38 percent decline of assortative mating in education for parents born between the early 1920s and the early 1950s. While the raw correlations also show decreases in father- and mother-specific intergenerational transmissions of educational attainment, our model shows that once we decompose all factors of intergenerational mobility, the share of intergenerational transmission accounted for by parent-specific factors increased from 7 to 27 percent; an increase compensated by a corresponding fall in joint intergenerational transmission from both parents, leaving total intergenerational persistence unchanged. The mechanisms of intergenerational transmission have changed, with an increased importance of one-to-one parent-child relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102047
JournalLabour Economics
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Editors, one anonymous referee and participants at the 2020 EALE SOLE AASLE World Conference for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Danish Council for Independent Research (grant DFF-6109-00226) and the Università Cattolica D3.2 Strategic Research Grant “Evidence-based anti-poverty policies”.


  • Assortative mating
  • Human capital
  • Inequality
  • Intergenerational transmission

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