The genetic and environmental influences on social mobility


Xu, Yilan (2018). The genetic and environmental influences on social mobility. 2018 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


The economic and sociology literature has shown strong persistence in wealth, income, and other socioeconomic status (SES) across generations and over one's lifetime, leading to social immobility. Parental SES could be transmitted to their children and persist over children's lifetime through abilities, intelligence, temperaments, as well as the family, neighborhood, and school environments. Some of these effects are genetic, while others are environmental. In this study, I propose to empirically explore the roles of genes, environments, and their interactions in explaining social mobility, using twins and siblings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The longitudinal structure of the survey allows me to observe young adults' SES in both Wave III (aged between 18 and 26 years old) and Wave IV (aged between 24 and 34 years old). Based on my previous research experience with this data set (Xu, Beller, Roberts, & Brown, 2015; Xu, Briley, Brown, & Roberts, 2017), I have constructed several measures of SES and used transition matrices to describe the SES transitions from Wave III to Wave IV. Specifically, occupation and education are translated to a Hollingshead scale. The household income is standardized, and a common factor is constructed from a vector of neighborhood characteristics. I am currently applying a univariate behavior genetic model to decompose the genetic, shared environmental, and non-shared environmental components in the variation of children's SES at Waves III and IV respectively. I will also use a bivariate behavior genetic model to quantify the share of the covariance of SES across the two waves that is due to the overlapped genetic variance. The results of the analyses are expected to reveal the genetic nature of the persistence of SES over time. The research findings will provide insights into the genetic and environmental nature of the intragenerational and intergenerational social mobility. The knowledge is expected to shed light on the design of policies that could enhance social mobility. If a disproportionate share of social mobility is genetic, then institutions such as social safety nets that offset the effects of individual differences in SES would be effective. If social mobility is largely environmental, interventions to improve the child developmental environment would be promising. The findings will also inform the different mixes of interventions that are effective for different SES groups.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2018 Add Health Users Conference


Xu, Yilan

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID