For many families, the idea that higher education for themselves or their children will automatically improve their social or economic status is a common one. In many situations this can be the case, however it is not universal. Additionally, many factors come into play when analyzing how intergenerational mobility does or does not occur. Some of these factors include existing social class, field of study, undergraduate vs. advanced degrees, race or gender, selection of institution, and parental resources. The general hypothesis of this study is “Is a College Degree Still the Great Equalizer?”
This issue was the source of study by Florencia Torche at New York University. Using different cohort groups and conducting various survey methods, this study was able measure the effects of certain college degrees (i.e. bachelors vs. advanced degrees, field of study, etc.) as they relate to various aspects of intergenerational mobility such as social class mobility, occupational status mobility, earnings mobility, and family income mobility. In addition, current data was compared with previously studied data from earlier studies (1965-2005) of this issue in order to measure current trends in intergenerational mobility among populations holding college degrees.
In many cases, access to a college education is largely dependent on parental resources. This is not to say that those families without the necessary resources cannot send their children to college. Students who demonstrate higher performance in secondary schools (high school) can have access to college based on merit. However, the greater a family’s resources, the more likely it is that a family can send their child to an upper-class institution not based on merit, but simply due to greater resources. This may not seem important, but an education at an upper-class institution can be instrumental in acquiring valuable social capital and earning advanced degrees in specific fields that command higher salaries in the marketplace, which can have a direct affect on all aspects of intergenerational mobility. This gap in access to education has increased over time. However, once achieved, a college degree can erase the advantages of origin by offering equal opportunity for economic success, proving that socioeconomic standing is independent of socioeconomic background. In other words, a college degree can do it. There are, however, varying degrees of mobility studied here, as we will discuss later.
The value of a college degree has also been measured based on the level of education as it relates to earning power. Post baccalaureate degrees alter mobility patterns of college graduates by affecting levels and fields of employment. Students who earn advanced degrees in the arts and sciences (business, math, engineering, and health) generally earn more, especially if their degrees come from more selective institutions. This indicates some degree of horizontal stratification among students. However, the...