Is Today's Career Success Inherited?
New study links parent financial support to youth professional attainment.
Posted May 14, 2018
We know from decades of research in child and adolescence that young people thrive when parents support their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development.
But do young adults find success in the workplace based on the same type of support? Not entirely, according to new research.
A study on youth occupational success by Anna Manzoni, associate professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, suggests that young people with affluent parents get an advantage at the starting line of career success.
The transition to adulthood is a critical period of development for youth, a time when current experiences combine with past parental and educational support to help shape young people’s futures. First jobs give young adults opportunities to develop more autonomy and self-confidence as they initiate the road to longer term careers. However, today’s job market for young adults is more precarious than in the past several decades, making it more likely that youth will accept jobs below their skill level with inadequate financial security.
The downward trend in job opportunities for youth combined with the rising importance of a college degree has affected the developmental trajectory for many young people entering adulthood. As a result, parents often remain actively involved in their children’s lives, influence career choices, and contribute to their financial support well into their twenties.
The effect of longer parental involvement in multiple aspects of young people’s lives is under debate. Some researchers suggest that support into young adulthood increases children’s well-being, life satisfaction, and goal achievement (Fingerman, 2012). Others suggest too much parental support may unduly extend a child’s dependence on their parents and create a sense of entitlement (Lareau, 2011).
Manzoni’s study was the first to explore how parental financial support effects a young adult’s successful transition into today’s job market.
Manzoni used longitudinal data from a public database of 18-28-year olds provided by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan to determine if parental financial support helped or hindered a young person’s transition to adulthood. It specifically examined the differences between making direct financial transfers to children vs. offering shared living in the family home as children seek job security.
The study looked at a variety of costs associated with the transition to adulthood, including housing, car payments, tuition, and other expenses. Results showed that over half of survey respondents received direct monetary support from parents. More than half received support through shared housing.
Results of Manzoni’s study showed that young people who received financial transfers of over $15,000/year achieved occupational status over 5 points higher than those who received below $5,000/year or no monetary support. This was particularly true for college graduates.
Most surprisingly, children who were given shared family housing support fared poorly. Their occupational attainment was 10 points lower than young people who were living independently. Again, this was particularly relevant to college graduates.
What the Data Means for Parents and Society
The results of Manzoni’s study provide helpful insights for affluent parents. At the same time, the results are troublesome for society and for parents with fewer financial resources.
From a developmental perspective, young people who live independently from parents have better opportunities for autonomy and are more geographically mobile to take jobs than those who must rely solely on family housing support. So, if you can afford to transfer money to your twenty-something, you may be helping them attain a higher professional status than inviting them to come live with you to save on expenses. In other words, you may provide an early inheritance of sorts—the kind that can affect your child’s early and long-term career success.
From a socio-economic perspective, young people who live with parents before or after college are associated with families who have less ability to provide cash transfers to their children. These parents have fewer financial choices. Recent research suggests that children living with parents in young adulthood may have more limited job opportunities because they are constrained to take jobs where their families reside (Gregg et al., 2017). When they live at home, young people may also feel less independent and self-confident.
Manzoni’s study is the first to underscore one way in which social inequality is inherited from one generation to another and how children of wealthier families have career advantages not afforded to lower-income children. In a challenging job market for young people, this type of inequality has the potential to affect the transition to young adulthood and career success for generations of young people.
Fingerman, K. L., Cheng, Y., Wesselman, E. D., Zarit, S., Furstenberg, F., & Birditt, K. S. (2012). Helicopter parents and landing pad kids: Intense parental support of grown children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(4), 880–896. Doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00987.x
Gregg, P., Jonsson, J. O., Macmillan, L., & Mood, C. (2017). The role of education for intergenerational income mobility: A comparison of the United States, Great Britain, and Sweden. Social Forces, 96(1), 121–152. Doi: 10.1093/sf/sox051
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.