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The contribution of cognitive and non-cognitive skills to intergenerational social mobility

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Matt McGue
  • Emily A. Willoughby
  • Aldo Rustichini
  • Wendy Johnson
  • William G. Iacono
  • James J. Lee

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    Rights statement: The final version of this paper has been published in Psychological Science, by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © M. McGue etal., 2020. It is available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797620924677

    Accepted author manuscript, 1.1 MB, PDF document

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Early online date30 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2020


We investigated intergenerational educational and occupational mobility in a sample of 2594 adult offspring and 2530 of their parents. Participants completed assessments of general cognitive ability and five non-cognitive factors related to social achievement; 88% were also genotyped allowing computation of educational attainment polygenic scores (PGS). Most offspring were mobile. Those scoring at least one standard deviation greater than their parents on both cognitive and non-cognitive measures rarely moved down and frequently moved up. PGS were also associated with mobility. Inheritance of a favorable subset of parent alleles was associated with moving up and an unfavorable subset with moving down. Parent education did not moderate the association of offspring skill with mobility, suggesting low-skilled offspring from advantaged homes were not protected from downward mobility. These data suggest that cognitive and non-cognitive skills as well as genetic factors contribute to the re-ordering of social standing that takes place across generations.

    Research areas

  • social mobility, parent-offspring transmission, general cognitive ability, non-cognitive skills

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