Parents’ income a predictor of childrens’ profession?

NPR’s Planet Money published a story today that compares household income during childhood and job choice during adulthood.  Based on the National Longitudinal Study/Bureau of Labor Statistics data, these graphs introduce some thought provoking trends from 1979 to 2010.

The first graph shows the most likely professions for children (now adults) who grew up in each income band.  Unsurprisingly, growing up in a household with more money correlates with careers like lawyers and judges, financial analysts and advisors, and physical, life, and social scientists – and those who grew up with less money became janitors, maids, truck drivers, and food preparation workers.

The second graph is where things get interesting.  Doctors, dentists, surgeons, and chief executives take their expected place at the top, but why do police officers, fire fighters, and nurses have such an increase over their parents’ income?  I’d call the underlying explanation “accessibility of profession”.  How likely is it that children from a lower income bracket can enter into this profession – and earn more money than their parents?  The jobs at the top of this list are exactly those.

On another note, physical, life, and social scientists  don’t demonstrate a large increase in second-generation income, but this could be because these people start at a higher income level – as the first graph illustrates.  At least we’re stable.  I’ll have to be content.

The third graph compares adults with each profession  to their parents’ income levels.  I am intrigued by the blue dots – especially those in the lower income bands, i.e. nurses, police officers, and teachers.  Since our economy cannot support everybody working as doctors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers, maybe these fields are where we should be focusing our energy as educators?  This might be a leap, but I’m going to see what the sociological literature has to say about it.  I’ll report back later.

Until then, join me in mourning for the country’s designers, musicians, and artists.


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