The Effect of Parental Loss on Social Mobility in Early-20th Century Sweden

Martin Dribe, Lund University
Björn Eriksson, Lund University

Socioeconomic attainment in the form of occupation or earnings are strongly dependent on parental attainment, and especially the attainment of the fathers. Theoretical models and empirical research both support such an association in intergenerational socioeconomic attainment. Several pathways exist through which parents can influence their children’s career development. Some of them depend crucially on the parent being alive and present during the upbringing of their children, e.g. access to resources and socialization. It could therefore be expected that losing a parent, and especially a father, would negatively affect socioeconomic attainment. In this paper we study first study the association between parental loss and the occupational attainment of children in Sweden in the first half of the 20th century using linked micro-level full-count census data. We analyze associations between losing a mother or a father and occupational attainment in adulthood, and also look at differences in social mobility for men and women depending on the life status of parents. Moreover, we estimate the causal effect of parental loss on social attainment and mobility using the deaths from the Spanish flu as an exogenous shock on adult mortality. Deaths from the Spanish flu are identified through the monthly distribution of deaths in the influenza period, which has been shown to be a valid approach. Occupational attainment in 1950 for individuals born in 1905-1910 with a mother or a father dying during the peak flu period are compared with children of the same cohorts with surviving parents as well as children whose parent(s) died before or after the flu. Our linked census dataset contains about 400,000 men and women born in 1905-1910 and observed in 1950, for which we have information on when their parents died.

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 Presented in Session 149. Economic and Social Mobility