A multigenerational view of inequality

Demography. 2011 Feb;48(1):1-23. doi: 10.1007/s13524-011-0014-7.


The study of intergenerational mobility and most population research are governed by a two-generation (parent-to-offspring) view of intergenerational influence, to the neglect of the effects of grandparents and other ancestors and nonresident contemporary kin. While appropriate for some populations in some periods, this perspective may omit important sources of intergenerational continuity of family-based social inequality. Social institutions, which transcend individual lives, help support multigenerational influence, particularly at the extreme top and bottom of the social hierarchy, but to some extent in the middle as well. Multigenerational influence also works through demographic processes because families influence subsequent generations through differential fertility and survival, migration, and marriage patterns, as well as through direct transmission of socioeconomic rewards, statuses, and positions. Future research should attend more closely to multigenerational effects; to the tandem nature of demographic and socioeconomic reproduction; and to data, measures, and models that transcend co-resident nuclear families.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Rate
  • Educational Status
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Male
  • Markov Chains
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Social Isolation
  • Social Mobility / economics*
  • Social Mobility / trends
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Women's Rights / economics
  • Women's Rights / trends