Sociologists have carefully studied changes across cohorts in the effects of family background, gender, education, and cognitive ability on occupational attainment. Unfortunately, few have focused on how these effects change within the course of individuals' lives. In order to appropriately estimate changes with age in the determinants of occupational standing, I correct for measurement errors in variables and use data on siblings to account for all aspects (measured and unmeasured) of family background. These analyses are performed using data from the 1994 General Social Survey and the 1994 Study of American Families, which together provide multiple measures of siblings' occupational standing at two points in their lives. Models of sibling resemblance show that the effects of family background on occupational standing operate entirely through their effects on education and cognitive ability. The effects of education decline as people progress through their careers, while the effects of ability are consistently negligible. Comparing men and women, there are important differences in career trajectories and in occupational returns to schooling.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Support for this research was provided by a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for Research in Education and by the Center for Demography and Ecology of the University of Wisconsin—Madison. I warmly thank Robert Hauser, Robert Mare, Judith Seltzer, Gary Sandefur, Michael Olneck, and several anonymous reviewers for their comments and advice. The opinions in this article are, however, my own.