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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

The Unexpected Reason Your Dad’s Income Matters to You (That Has Nothing to Do With Inheritance)

A recent study by Jörg L. Spenkuch, reported by Vocativ, gives a whole new meaning to the expression like father, like son. Long story short: Your salary’s likely to look a lot like your father’s. (If you’re his son, that is. Unfortunately, this study only looked at men and their male offspring. Here’s to hoping future studies are more inclusive.)

Kellogg School of Management Professor Spenkuch found that among sons whose fathers were top earners, the probability of them being in the top earning decile was high—about 27%. Only 3% of this group is likely to wind up in the bottom decile group.

As may be expected, sons of bottom-earning fathers, on the other hand, are most likely to model the earnings of their dads and have difficulty rising from that low-income rung. The most surprising part of the analysis reveals that the income of sons of middle-income earning fathers isn’t as cut and dry. While the greatest percentage of this group is likely to remain in the middle, this is only true by a very small margin, with the chances of them being at the top or the bottom equal.

What does this mean exactly? With greater privilege tends to come greater opportunity and, therefore, a higher earning potential; conversely, less opportunity is often the result of few privileges.

So, that said, it’s pretty unsurprising that high earners often produce the like. From having a college education paid for in its entirety, to being at liberty to take a non-paid internship in between semesters, to tutors in every possible subject from the very beginning, these people have likely had it easier from the start. In fact, Spenkuch seems to support this in his accounting of the link between the generations, “One potential explanation is that rich parents invest a lot more in their children than poorer ones.”

And yet, this still only explains the somewhat obvious correlations, and it doesn’t offer any kind of basis for why the middle-class offspring are so unpredictable in their earnings. Could there be an acceptance or complacency in this group? Is it possible there’s a lack of real drive in the sons who end up on the bottom or in the middle, and really only a handful who are determined to rise to the top and have more than their fathers had? Perhaps—social mobility across the generations is really quite limited in its scope. I’d certainly be interested in seeing a future study done depicting Millennial earnings and their offspring, though I’d absolutely hope to see mothers and daughters included in the analysis this time around.

What can you do with this information? Well, as you build your career, you might want to keep the analysis' findings in mind; maybe it'll impact how you negotiate your next job offer or approach your boss about that raise you've been waiting for. Don't let fear of speaking up be the reason you're earning in the bottom decile. You might even tell yourself you owe it to your future children.

Photo of father and son shoes courtesy of Shutterstock.