Exploring the uncharted waters of educational mobility: The role of key skills

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For decades, researchers tried to get a deeper understanding of the intergenerational transmission of education to shed light on inequality of educational opportunities (IEO) that determine social mobility. The underlying drivers of IEO can stem from three types of parental resources: parent’s key skills (i.e., proficiency in important domains like math and language), parent’s soft skills (i.e., the skills needed to navigate successfully in education), and parent’s financial resources. Previous research was not able to accurately distinguish between the contributions of these different resources, mainly because adequate data on the intergenerational transmission of key skills was missing. This study aims to fill this gap. We developed a unique and unparalleled dataset, the
Intergenerational Transmission of Skills (ITS) dataset, combining key skills of more than 25,000 Dutch parents and their children measured with the same test at age 12 with detailed information on the educational pathways and household income. We
demonstrate that parent’s key skills is the most important mechanism driving IEO. One standard deviation increase in parent’s key skills is associated with almost one-third of a standard deviation increase in the key skills of their offspring. The intergenerational
transmission of key skills accounts for 50-60% of the effect of all measured resources available in the family. The role of financial resources available to the family is a bit stronger than the role of parent’s soft skills, accounting for some 25-30% of the total
effect of family resources, with parent’s soft skills taking up some 20-25%.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMaastricht
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021

Publication series

SeriesROA Research Memoranda

JEL classifications

  • i24 - Education and Inequality
  • j12 - "Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure; Domestic Abuse"
  • j24 - "Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity"
  • j62 - "Job, Occupational, and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion"


  • inequality of educational opportunities
  • key skills
  • soft skills
  • financial resources
  • human capital
  • cultural capital
  • financial capital
  • intergenerational transmission of education

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