Journal Article

Sibling similarity in education across and within societies

Grätz, M., Barclay, K. J., Wiborg, Ø., Lyngstad, T. H., Karhula, A., Erola, J., Präg, P., Laidley, T., Conley, D.
Demography, 58:3, 1011–1037 (2021)
Open Access


The extent to which siblings resemble each other measures the omnibus impact of family background on life chances. We study sibling similarity in cognitive skills, school grades, and educational attainment in Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We also compare sibling similarity by parental education and occupation within these societies. The comparison of sibling correlations across and within societies allows us to characterize the omnibus impact of family background on education across social landscapes. Across countries, we find larger differences in sibling similarity at the population level for final educational attainment than for cognitive skills and for school grades. In general, sibling similarity in education varies less across countries than sibling similarity in earnings. In addition, rankings of countries in sibling resemblance differ across the three educational outcomes we study. We find socioeconomic differences in sibling similarity to vary across parental resources, countries, and measures of educational success. In particular, Sweden and the United States show a higher sibling similarity in educational attainment in families with a high level of father’s education and Finland, Germany, and Norway show a higher sibling similarity in educational attainment in families with a low level of father’s education. We discuss the implications of our results for theories about the impact of institutions and income inequality on and the mechanisms underlying educational inequality.

Keywords: Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, education, family, inequality, siblings
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.