Growing Wealth Gaps in Education

August 2016

Fabian Pfeffer, University of Michigan

Download '2016-06-npc-working-paper.pdf'.


Prior research on trends in educational inequality has focused chiefly on changing gaps in educational attainment by family income or parental occupation. In contrast, this contribution provides the first assessment of trends in educational attainment by family wealth and suggests that we should be at least as much concerned about growing wealth gaps in education. Despite overall growth in educational attainment and some signs of decreasing wealth gaps in high school attainment and college access, I find a large and rapidly increasing wealth gap in college attainment between cohorts born in the 1970 and 1980s, respectively. This growing wealth gap in higher educational attainment co-occurred with a rise in inequality in children’s wealth backgrounds, though the analyses also suggest that the latter does not fully account for the former. Nevertheless, the results reported here raise concerns about the distribution of educational opportunity among today’s children who grow up in a context of particularly extreme wealth inequality.

Educational Attainment, Inter and Intragenerational Mobility