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

A multigenerational view of inequality.

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Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1551, USA.


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.

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