Late-stage educational inequality: Can selection on noncognitive skills explain waning social background effects?

Christian Michael Smith, Eric Grodsky, John Robert Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Past research finds that the effect of socioeconomic origin on the probability of making educational transitions decreases over the educational career from primary to graduate school. Some have argued that this pattern of waning is the result of selective attrition, since those of modest social origins who make a given transition may have exceptional cognitive or noncognitive skills while more advantaged individuals may rely less heavily on these skills to continue their education. We study a sample of American 10th graders from 1980 to assess how much the pattern of waning effects is due to selective attrition along noncognitive skills for this cohort. We find that controlling for noncognitive skills does not make the effect of socioeconomic origin more stable across transitions. Still, socioeconomic advantage does not decline uniformly across transitions, and it appears most pronounced at the transition into college, whether accounting for noncognitive skills or not. Our results suggest that origins continue to drive educational attainment even among those who make it to postsecondary transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100424
JournalResearch in Social Stratification and Mobility
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences , U.S. Department of Education , through Award #R305B150003 to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represents views of the U.S. Department of Education. The authors are grateful for comments on previous versions of this work that they received from Myra Marx Ferree, Monica Grant, Christine Schwartz, participants of the 2017 Midwest Sociology of Education conference, and two anonymous reviewers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019


  • Educational transitions
  • Mare model
  • Noncognitive skills
  • Personality
  • Unobserved heterogeneity


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