Get access

Parental Job Loss and Children's Educational Attainment in Black and White Middle-Class Families


  • *Direct correspondence to Ariel Kalil, Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago, 1155 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637 〈〉. Patrick Wightman will provide all data and coding information to those wishing to replicate the study. This work was supported in part by a William T. Grant Foundation Faculty Scholars Award to the first author and a predoctoral fellowship from the Population Research Center at the University of Chicago to the second author. Support was also provided in part by funds provided to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, #1 U01 AE000002-. Any opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and should not be construed as representing the opinions or policy of any agency of the federal government. The authors appreciate helpful comments from Greg Duncan, Tom DeLeire, Jens Ludwig, Bob Schoeni, Rob Fairlie, Dylan Conger, and seminar participants at the Population Research Center at the University of Chicago, the Department of Economics at the University of Stavanger, Norway, the School of Public Policy at the University of Toronto, and the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.


Objectives. We aim to understand why blacks are significantly less likely than whites to perpetuate their middle-class status across generations. To do so, we focus on the potentially different associations between parental job loss and youth's educational attainment in black and white middle-class families.

Methods. We use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), following those children “born” into the survey between 1968 and 1979 and followed through age 21. We conduct multivariate regression analyses to test the association between parental job loss during childhood and youth's educational attainment by age 21.

Results. We find that parental job loss is associated with a lesser likelihood of obtaining any postsecondary education for all offspring, but that the association for blacks is almost three times as strong. A substantial share of the differential impact of job loss on black and white middle-class youth is explained by race differences in household wealth, long-run measures of family income, and, especially, parental experience of long-term unemployment.

Conclusions. These findings highlight the fragile economic foundation of the black middle class and suggest that intergenerational persistence of class status in this population may be highly dependent on the avoidance of common economic shocks.