How Far an Apple Can Fall from the Tree

How much will a child’s economic situation diverge from that of his parents’?

Children raised in families that are far apart on the income ladder can expect markedly different economic futures, finds a new study from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Children born into lower-income families have very different futures than those from higher-income households, according to “Economic Mobility in the U.S.”

Kids from families at the top 90th percentile, for example, can expect their own family income to be three times more than those raised in the lowest 10th percentile. Over recent decades, surveyors note, the rising income and wealth of affluent parents have allowed them to increase investments in their children, from day care through college. At the same time, wages have stagnated for most workers and low-income families have struggled to pay for routine expenses.

Parental income matters more for men’s earnings than for women’s. Although both men and women benefit from being born into higher-income families, men benefit much more—at least when it comes to their own earnings.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Approximately half of parental income advantages are passed on to children.
  • The persistence of advantage is especially large among those raised in the middle to upper reaches of the income distribution.
  • Parental income matters more for women’s chances of marriage, and of marrying better-off partners.