Dad's brain plays pivotal role in son's success
It is a known fact that sons of fathers with high incomes tend to end up with higher than average incomes themselves, but new research shows that it’s not just dad’s money that helps a son on his way.
According to the study, human capital endowments passed from father to son —perhaps in the form of smarts, advice, work ethic, or some other intangible — could be more important to a son’s success than the size of their father’s paycheck.
“We know there’s a correlation between fathers’ income and sons’,” David Sims said. “What’s gotten less attention is the mechanism. We wanted to see if the intergenerational income correlation is due to money — what we can buy for our kids — or if human capital attributes passed from father to son play a role as well,” he said.
The problem is that separating the two inputs is tricky. On average, fathers with higher human capital endowments also tend to have higher incomes, so it’s hard to tell which factor is doing what.
Sims, an economics professor at Brigham Young University and one of the study’s authors and his colleagues used a statistical model and a rich dataset to try to disentangle the two.
The authors’ methodology builds on the following thought experiment. Take two smart, similarly skilled and educated fathers. Say one lived in a town with a robust labor market and he had a big salary. The other father wasn’t so lucky. He lived in a town with a depressed labor market, and had much lower earnings despite his comparable human capital.
If money were the only thing that matters in the intergenerational transfer of income, then we’d expect that the son of the lucky father would end up with a higher income than the son of the unlucky father.
However, if human capital matters, the two sons may end up with more similar incomes.To test this idea, the researchers used remarkably detailed government administrative data on a large sample of Swedish fathers with sons born between 1950 and 1965. The data included salary information for fathers and sons as well as clues about fathers’ human capital: education levels and the nature of their occupations.