Early Parental Death, Parental SES, and Midlife Status Attainment

Swallen, Karen, and Steven A. Haas
Working paper no. 2002-01


Status attainment models indicate that one of the predictors of lifetime education, income and wealth is parental education. Education is also correlated with mortality rates. We examine how parental mortality may influence lifetime education, income and wealth of offspring, after controlling for parental education. We use the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative sample of 9,678 men and women born 1931-1941. Using covariance matrices and LISREL 8.3 we fit a series of recursive structural models to estimate the direct and indirect effects of early parental death and parental education on later life SES. The best model differs by gender. For men, early parental death exerts no additional effect on lifetime SES. In agreement with the status attainment literature, we find that parental education exerts its effect on lifetime SES via education. For women, however, we find that early parental death is an independent factor that predicts lower wealth accumulation and educational attainment. For women, the influence of parent’s education is felt through educational attainment as well as via direct effects on income and wealth. The results indicate that early parental death is especially detrimental to women’s lifetime SES.