Manual Passing It On

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Each year, more and more of the school children who attend school in White Bear Lake come from families experiencing financial difficulties. In addition to not having enough money to pay for school lunches, many of these families also have difficulty paying for other expenses associated with having kids in school. Elementary school children in White Bear Lake are expected to bring basic school supplies to school on their first day of school in the fall. These supplies include pencils, erasers, crayons, markers and paper. However, some families do not have the financial ability to purchase these supplies for their children.

Much of the research on transfers attempts to understand the motivation for inter vivos transfers Becker ; Hogan, Eggebeen, and Clogg ; Eggebeen and Hogan ; Kohli and Kunemund ; Yamada , document the consequences of divorce Furstenberg, Hoffman, and Shrestha ; White ; Eggebeen , or explain variation by race, gender, or other demographic characteristics Sarkisian and Gerstel ; Berry ; Eggebeen and Hogan In a related area of research, evidence from Europe documents the relationship between inter vivos transfers and welfare regimes or state support for the elderly Attias-Donfut, Ogg, and Wolff ; Albertini, Kohli, and Vogel , echoing evidence from the United States that parental financial transfers differ by parental income.

For example, Robert Schoeni and Karen Ross find that compared with young adults ages eighteen to thirty-four from families in the bottom half of the income distribution, those in the top quartile received nearly three times as much financial support from parents , Only recently has research begun to investigate the potential consequences of parent-to-adult child transfers. For example, Claire Scodellaro, Myriam Khlat, and Florence Jusot find that transfer receipt is associated with health in a French sample.

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Others find evidence that parental transfers are associated with unequal living standards and adult socioeconomic outcomes Semyonov and Lewin-Epstein ; Swartz , These unequal outcomes make sense in light of the evidence showing substantial differences in financial transfers from parents to young adult children by parental income McGarry and Schoeni This and other evidence, however, is based on relatively old data.

Thus, descriptive information on inter-generational financial transfers in the United States would benefit from more recent information, such as that available in the PSID Rosters and Transfers Module. A small literature examines financial transfers for specific purposes, including education. Moshe Semyonov and Noah Lewin-Epstein , for example, examine the association between adult living standards and parental transfers for education or the purchase of a house.

Relying on an Israeli sample, however, their findings may not be generalizable to the United States. Other evidence suggests families with more children provide less college financial support for each one Henretta et al.

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Research, however, tends not to investigate variation in intergenerational transfers over time. Thus, although class inequality in transfers is well documented Eggebeen and Hogan ; McGarry and Schoeni ; Schoeni and Ross , in many cases this evidence relies on data from two decades ago, and little research investigates changes in transfers over time or the relationship between transfers for education and socioeconomic attainment. Unequal parental financial transfers for education have potentially long-lasting consequences.

For example, research suggests intergenerational mobility varies by level of education. Comparing mobility among college graduates with that among others, evidence shows greater mobility among those with a degree Torche ; Hout Not surprisingly, however, a college degree is not equally available to all Carnevale and Strohl ; Haskins At the admission stage, student SAT scores are correlated with family income Balf , youth from families with lower socioeconomic status SES are less likely to apply to highly selective schools that provide more financial aid Hoxby and Avery , and higher SES families enjoy advantages in admission, grooming children from a young age to ensure acceptance to a selective postsecondary school Stevens After admission, the likelihood of graduating within six years remains unequal by socioeconomic background Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson Enjoying financial support from parents, young adults from higher SES families can forgo work to focus on studies or social activities Walpole ; Hamilton Alternatively, those from working-class backgrounds can borrow to pay for college but face daunting student loans, which can encourage dropout or limit choices after graduation Armstrong and Hamilton ; Houle By influencing the quantity and quality of education received, parental financial transfers for education may have meaningful implications for adult outcomes.

Using survey data from Europe, Marco Albertini and Jonas Radl find evidence that financial transfers help reproduce inequality of occupational status across generations. Given higher costs of postsecondary education in the United States, parental transfers for education may play a similar role in reproducing inequality across generations in the United States. Parental transfers for education may be particularly important for adult socioeconomic outcomes in the contemporary context, which offers limited opportunity for early economic independence.

Evidence suggests this extension may be due to economic changes Danziger and Rouse Regardless of the causes, however, young adults are undoubtedly struggling to establish themselves in the current social context Silva ; Danziger and Rouse ; Newman Furthermore, this extended period of dependence on parental resources seems unlikely to shrink in the near future, given economic trends and the erosion of the social safety net Kalleberg ; Hacker As contemporary young adults struggle to complete their education, find a job that pays a living wage, pay off student loans, or afford health insurance Danziger and Rouse , those who received parental financial support for school may face fewer barriers to independence and greater opportunity to capitalize on [End Page ] their education.

For example, parental transfers could prevent young adults from having to accrue student debt, which could allow them to take better advantage of their school experience, pursue further education, or accept a coveted but unpaid internship. At the same time, college tuition costs have risen and wealth inequality has increased in recent decades College Board ; Piketty ; Keister ; Wolff , , this volume.

Along with these economic changes, parental financial transfers for school may have increased over time, playing a greater role in the lives of contemporary emerging adults. Wealth has implications for a wide variety of outcomes, including health Thompson and Conley, this volume; Pollack et al. Although evidence suggests the importance of parental wealth for postsecondary education Conley ; Pfeffer , it is unclear to what extent this reflects parental transfers for college as opposed to earlier investments in education or some other factor. Learning more about the mechanisms involved will help in understanding the potential consequences of growing wealth inequality and policies that could improve equality of opportunity.

Although some suggest that recent increases in wealth inequality are driven largely by gains among the top 0. Thus, the growing wealth gap has implications for the ability of families throughout the wealth distribution to finance postsecondary education. At the same time, parental transfers could contribute to wealth inequality. As of , for example, evidence from Edward Wolff suggests that financial transfers from living parents accounted for half of the wealth of those born after More recently, Lingxin Hao finds evidence that financial transfers are positively associated with wealth among families with children.

Thus, the relationship between parental financial transfers for education and wealth inequality may be reciprocal. I address potential endogeneity in this study but focus on assessing whether an association exists. Several questions remain. Wealthier parents have more funds to transfer to their adult children, so their transfers will likely be higher. To what extent, however, is wealth related to transfers?

Have transfers increased or become more dependent on parental wealth as wealth inequality increased? Furthermore, what is the relationship between these transfers for school and adult socioeconomic attainment, including education, income, and wealth? A growing body of evidence illustrates that early childhood investment is critical for successful development Heckman and Masterov ; Heckman If early childhood is so critical, perhaps any meaningful benefits of parental support occur earlier in life and transfers in adulthood are redundant, with no bearing on adult outcomes.

Hypothesis 1 is that parental transfers to young adult children for education are not associated with adult socioeconomic outcomes when holding parental SES measures constant. Alternatively, parental transfers could promote a sense of entitlement, sap motivation, or promote laziness. If parental financial transfers encourage satisficing behavior in school or other realms of life, young adults receiving transfers could find themselves outstudied and outearned on the job market by young adults who did not enjoy parental financial support.

In other words, parental transfers could be negatively associated with adult SES outcomes. Hypothesis 2 is that parental transfers for education are negatively associated with adult socioeconomic outcomes. The difficulties and experiences of contemporary young adults, however, suggest that parental support during young adulthood may have nontrivial consequences for adult outcomes Silva Consistent with findings from Europe Albertini and Radl , parental transfers may help to reproduce inequality across generations.

In the context of rising tuition costs and extended adolescence, parental transfers for education may be particularly important for young adult outcomes. Hypothesis 3 is that parental financial transfers for education are positively associated with adult socioeconomic outcomes. The Rosters and Transfers Module of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics provides recent and long-term transfer information between parents and adult children from 9, families who participated in the survey.

The sample is limited to those with parental transfer information who were older than twenty-two in , the year income and financial transfers were measured. The sample therefore includes cohorts born between and , who turned eighteen between and The main analyses include those with maternal measures, including education, household income and wealth, marital status, age, race, and ethnicity.


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  • These measures are calculated separately for each parent in case of divorce or separation. Sensitivity analyses using paternal measures allow a smaller sample size because 23 percent of the main sample is missing paternal measures but yield similar results see the online supplement, tables 1 through I limit the sample to those over age twenty-two to ensure that all individuals are beyond the traditional college completion age, the period during which the majority of parent-to-child transfers for school likely occur.

    One potential concern is that children from wealthier or higher SES families may have received transfers for school after that age—to complete graduate degrees, for example. To address this concern, I conduct two sets of sensitivity analyses limited to those who were older than thirty and older than thirty-four in These results are consistent with the main analyses and are presented in table A1.

    In a second step to address concern that those from wealthier families received transfers after college, I compare the amount of financial transfers for any purpose between parents and children in the year before the Rosters and Transfers Module by cohort and parental wealth. The comparisons suggest low-wealth parents below the median gave their young adult children ages twenty-three through twenty-nine more money and received less money from them in than high-wealth parents see table A2.

    Thus, young adults from wealthier families do not appear to receive more from their parents than others, whether before or after age thirty. In fact, at least in , adult children from both high-and low-wealth backgrounds gave their parents more than they received.

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    The modest average transfer amounts suggest the PSID transfer data may not capture [End Page ] large transfers among the very wealthy. Individuals in the data may fail to report all transfers or very wealthy individuals may fail to appear in the data. These are limitations of the data and results should be interpreted with these limitations in mind.

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    Parental transfers for school measure the total amount of money parents report giving their child for school since age eighteen in the Rosters and Transfers Module. Transfers are adjusted for inflation based on the year in which the child turned eighteen, but results are similar using unadjusted values see table A3.

    In some cases, children appear more than once in the data if their parents are divorced and both parents completed the survey, for example. In those cases, the total amount of transfers from both parents is calculated. The long-term transfer question in the module requires parents to recall how much financial support they gave their child for education since that child turned eighteen.

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    Given the potential for recall bias, this retrospective reporting is less than ideal. The data provide more recent information over a longer range of cohorts than available in most existing research on parental transfers, which similarly relies on retrospective reports. Nevertheless, parental transfers may be measured with error. In an effort to address concern about potential measurement error, I conduct sensitivity analyses limited to those who were younger than thirty in The recall period is shorter for these cohorts and transfers should therefore be measured with less error.

    However, because these cohorts are young, they are unlikely to have reached full earning potential and may not be employed. Financial transfers for school have had little time to generate any implications for income or wealth among young cohorts. The results, presented in table A4 , are consistent with the main analyses, but the coefficients for parental transfers predictably do not reach significance in models predicting wealth and in one model predicting household income.

    Education is measured in years for both individuals and their parents and represents the highest grade or year of school completed. Individual education is measured in Maximum parental education provides the best measure of parental educational attainment, even if it occurred after the traditional age. Individual income is total household income in reported in the survey and converted to dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator and includes income of all members in the family unit.

    Income is measured when the child was seventeen because it provides the parental income measure closest to but before the year the child turned eighteen. Because parental income and ability to support a child could vary by parental age, I also measure and control for parental age when the child was seventeen. Individual wealth is the sum of all family assets in , including home equity and net of debt.

    Parental wealth is the same statistic in the year with available wealth data closest to the year the child was seventeen converted to dollars.

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    The PSID collected wealth in , , , , and every two years after that through For the earliest cohorts, the measure of parental wealth is just over twenty years after the child was seventeen. Fewer individuals are in the earlier cohorts of the sample; however, for approximately 27 percent of the sample, parental wealth is measured more than two years from when the individual was seventeen.

    Because of the potential measurement error, I do not control for parental wealth in the main analyses. Supplemental analyses controlling for parental wealth are presented in the online supplement tables 11 through 13 [End Page ] and yield similar results. Models using parental wealth to predict the amount of financial transfers for school yield similar results when limited to those who turned eighteen after for whom parental wealth is measured within two years of when the individual was seventeen.

    Because financial transfers for school, household income, and wealth are skewed, I use transformed measures in regressions. I take the natural log of transfers and total individual and parental household income plus one, to include those with zero values. Some households have negative values for wealth. To reduce skewness without excluding those with zero or negative wealth values, I take the inverse hyperbolic sine IHS of wealth.