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Behav Sci (Basel). 2018 Nov 21;8(11). pii: E107. doi: 10.3390/bs8110107.

Parental Education Attainment and Educational Upward Mobility; Role of Race and Gender.

Assari S1,2,3,4.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, 4250 Plymouth Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2700, USA.
Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health (CRECH), University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA.
Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Franz Hall, 502 Portola Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Background. The Minorities' Diminished Return theory suggests that education attainment and other socioeconomic resources have smaller effects on the health and well-being of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities compared to Whites. Racial and ethnic differences in the processes involved with educational upward mobility may contribute to the diminished returns of education attainment for African Americans compared to Whites. Aim: This study compared African Americans and non-Hispanic Whites for the effect of parental education attainment on educational upward mobility and explored gender differences in these effects. Methods. The National Survey of American Life (NSAL 2003) is a nationally representative survey of American adults. Participants included 891 non-Hispanic White and 3570 African American adults. Gender, race/ethnicity, age, highest parental education attainment, and respondents' educational attainment were measured. Data were analyzed using linear regression models. Results. Overall, higher parental education attainment was associated with higher educational upward mobility (b = 0.34, p < 0.001), however, this boosting effect was significantly smaller for African Americans compared to Whites (b = -0.13, p = 0.003). Our further analysis showed that race by parental education attainment can be found for females (b = -0.14, p = 0.013) but not males (p > 0.05). Conclusion. African American females are at a disadvantage compared to White females regarding the effect of parental education attainment on their educational upward mobility, a phenomenon which could not be observed when comparing African American and White males. These results advocate for taking intersectionality frameworks to study the effects of race, gender, and class in the US.


African Americans; blacks; educational mobility; racism; social mobility; socioeconomic mobility; socioeconomic status (SES)

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