Socioeconomic Achievements of Siblings in the Life Course: New Findings from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study

Hauser, Robert, Jennifer Sheridan, and John Warren
Working paper no. 1998-02


About 8500 graduates of Wisconsin high schools and a randomly selected brother or sister have been followed from 1957 through the early 1990s. Data include multiple measures of social background, cognitive ability, schooling, and occupations held from career entry to midlife. We have analyzed occupational standing across the life course, based on complementary measures of occupational education and of occupational income. Women’s and men’s careers follow similar upward trajectories in occupational education, but they diverge sharply in occupational income. Women’s occupational income trajectories are lower and show less growth than those of men. After correcting for response error, we estimate between-family components of variance in ability (31 to 57 percent), schooling (33 to 55 percent), and occupational standing (11 to 48 percent)—depending on stage of the occupational career. These estimates are based on structural equation models of sibling resemblance, which yield estimates of the effects of social background, cognitive ability, and schooling—both within- and between-families—across the life course of women and men. Across families, educational attainment levels are determined largely by cognitive ability and to a lesser degree by social background; family levels of occupational attainment are determined largely by family education levels. Within families, cognitive ability also affects occupational standing primarily through schooling. Occupational inequalities and the effects of educational attainment on those inequalities both tend to decline across the life course.