College and Intergenerational Mobility: New Evidence from Administrative Data
Danny Yagan, UC Berkeley

What is the role of college in the intergenerational transmission of income inequality? This project will tackle this question using population-level administrative data to characterize the distribution of parent and student income across the hierarchy of U.S. colleges in order to understand (a) where students from rich and poor families attend college, (b) what explains the substantial variation in poor student enrollment across similarly ranked colleges, and © what share of the persistence of inequality across generations is explained by the colleges children attend. Our preliminary results using incomplete data are striking: we find that at America’s top-10 colleges, more students come from families in the top 1% of the income distribution than from families in the entire bottom half of the income distribution combined. We further find that one’s college statistically explains the vast majority of the intergenerational transmission of income inequality. Subsequent analyses will focus on the role of community colleges and public universities in providing children from low-income backgrounds with upward mobility.
To facilitate future research by other scholars in this area, we aim to publicly release comprehensive tables of poor-student and rich-student enrollment for each college along with estimates of their graduates’ subsequent earnings trajectories.
The results will illuminate the role of certain colleges as gateways to economic success and will highlight policies (e.g., more inclusive admission policies rather than lower tuition costs) that may be particularly likely to increase poor-student enrollment and thus enhance upward mobility.
This proposed grant will fund the crucial ingredient for project success: the time and travel necessary to analyze the missing administrative data on the very poorest college enrollees, which will make this analysis comprehensive and authoritative.


Danny Yagan
Assistant Professor of Economics, UC Berkeley

Danny Yagan is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California Berkeley and a Faculty Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He earned a BA summa cum laude and a PhD in economics from Harvard University and completed a post-doc at UC Berkeley. He works in public and labor economics focusing on education quality and access, capital taxes, and inequality in recovery from the great recession.