Parents' legacy of failure

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The Independent Online
The children of the rich stand a much bigger chance of staying rich, and those of the poor a still larger chance of staying poor than the rest of us, new research published today shows.

And the chances of staying at the top of the income distribution table if your parents are there are appreciably higher than the chance of climbing to the top of the pile if your parents are poor, work from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows.

The results use the National Childhood Development Study, which tracked all children born in one week in March in 1958, measuring their achievements and life chances to the age of 33 compared to that of their parents. The study found individuals' attainments in education and the labour market were related to their parents' performances a generation previously.

Ability as measured by a maths test at the age of seven, together with educational achievement, proved important influences in whether people did significantly better or worse than their parents. But the study was unable to answer the question of whether such achievements were due to inheriting their parents' abilities or were the result of their family background. None the less, the son of a father in the top one-fifth of the income distribution was more than three times more likely to end up in the top fifth than in the bottom fifth. And there is a clear "intergenerational transmission of poverty" through unemployment. Those raised in households where the father was unemployed are roughly twice as likely to end up with a history of unemployment themselves. Equally, children of less well-off parents are more likely to end up unemployed than those with better-paid fathers.

9 Two Nations? The Inheritance of Poverty and Affluence. IFS, 7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1; pounds 6.