Who Had the Richest Parents? Comparing Current Income to How You Grew Up

A few weeks ago, we were sitting around the office arguing over this simple question: Who had richer parents, journalists or people working in finance? Doctors or artists? More generally: What’s the link between household income during childhood and job choice during adulthood?

Love your water cooler chat, Planet Money, and love that you followed through on it and tracked down then parsed a longitudinal government study following 12,000 people for 30 years. Enter many strangely fascinating graphs.

Most interesting to me are the people who make less than their parents, especially the ones in fields who presumably knew that going in. “Counselors, social and religious workers,” for instance, or the old “Designers, artists, musicians, etc” group. The artist group has the biggest decrease from parental income to their own by a mile, at -35%. Sure, this group of people probably doesn’t make much income at all in general, but is the big disparity more because they tend to come from families who are particularly well-off? Maybe they are still supported by said rich parents.

Conversely, “Doctors, dentists, and surgeons” have a 45-ish% disparity between childhood income and actual income, but it’s in the opposite direction. They make about as much as “Chief executives” and “Lawyers and judges,” but their parents made less.

Do you make more than your parents? I still calling my mom a few years ago to tell her I got a raise at work, and, well, first she told me I should have asked for more money (Mommmmm), but then she told me I officially made more money than she did. At the time I was a copywriter and she was a physical therapist. Now she is a physical therapist for DOGS which is a whole other, perhaps better, story.

Oh, and as to who had the richest parents, according to the data parsed by NPR, the answer is “Lawyers and judges.”


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