Dissertation

Intergenerational Social Mobility and Family Formation in the United States

Dissertation

Intergenerational Social Mobility and Family Formation in the United States

My dissertation explores the relationships between social mobility, family formation, and intergenerational status transmission. I frame much of the dissertation around the marriage experiences of first-generation college students to understand how those from relatively disadvantaged social origins fare in the marriage market given their upward educational mobility. Earning a college degree is often viewed as a marker of upward mobility, even being hailed as the “great equalizer,” but these claims are based on studying economic and occupational status. Demographic processes, like marriage, also play an important role in social and economic stability in a way that has previously gone understudied. I show the importance of expanding the focus of stratification research beyond economic and occupational outcomes by highlighting how social (im)mobility and family formation are interrelated.

The first chapter of my dissertation asks whether earning a bachelor’s degree acts as a “great equalizer” for marriage by examining when and whom first-generation college students marry. I find that first- and continuing-generation college graduates differ substantially in whom they marry, with first-generation women, in particular, being far less likely to marry a college graduate. These findings suggest that earning a college degree may not uniformly serve as a great equalizer for all outcomes or all groups. This paper recently received an invitation to Revise and Resubmit at Demography.

In the second chapter, I extend my work on first-generation college students to ask whether where students attends college helps explain the reduced likelihood of first-generation women marrying college graduates. I find that the gender composition of schools attended and the distance those schools are from students’ home explain some, but not all of the gender differences observed in Chapter 1.

Finally, my third chapter examines the relationships between the intergenerational transmission of economic status and the intergenerational transmission of family structure. I find that when accounting for the transmission of affluence and examining recent cohorts, the intergenerational transmissions of economic status and family structure are not independent processes, contradicting previous work on the topic.