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Laura Hamilton

Research Findings

College and earnings are just part of the story: The contributions of marriage and family wealth to college-educated white women’s class location

December 2, 2021

Most popular discourse on “returns to college” tends to assume—implicitly or explicitly—that adult class location is largely a result of individual earnings that flow from investments in education.

Recently, we published a qualitative longitudinal study of social mobility among a cohort of college-educated white women in the American Journal of Sociology. We followed 45 women who started college on the same residence hall at a flagship public university for 12 years, with a final wave of data collection at age 30.

We show that social class location over time was “sticky,” in that both upward and downward mobility were limited. The heavy hand of social class in shaping both marital patterns and the transfer of wealth accounts for the persistence of class position across generations.

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