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Emerging psychopathology moderates upward social mobility: The intergenerational (dis)continuity of socioeconomic status

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2015

Marie-Hélène Véronneau
Université du Québec à Montréal
Lisa A. Serbin*
Concordia University
Dale M. Stack
Concordia University
Jane Ledingham
University of Ottawa
Alex E. Schwartzman
Concordia University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lisa A. Serbin, Centre for Research in Human Development and Department of Psychology, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke Street West, PY-170, Montreal, QC H4B 1R6, Canada. E-mail:


Socioeconomic status (SES) is relatively stable across generations, but social policies may create opportunities for upward social mobility among disadvantaged populations during periods of economic growth. With respect to expanded educational opportunities that occurred in Québec (Canada) during the 1960s, we hypothesized that children's social and academic competence would promote upward mobility, whereas aggression and social withdrawal would have the opposite effect. Out of 4,109 children attending low-SES schools in 1976–1978, a representative subsample of 503 participants were followed until midadulthood. Path analyses revealed that parents’ SES predicted offspring's SES through associations with offspring's likeability, academic competence, and educational attainment. Interaction effects revealed individual risk factors that moderated children's ability to take advantage of intrafamilial or extrafamilial opportunities that could enhance their educational attainment. Highly aggressive participants and those presenting low academic achievement were unable to gain advantage from having highly educated parents. They reached lower educational attainment than their less aggressive or higher achieving peers who came from a similarly advantaged family background. Growing up with parents occupying low-prestige jobs put withdrawn boys and outgoing girls at risk for low educational attainment. In conclusion, social policies can raise SES across generations, with great benefits for the most disadvantaged segments of the population. However, children presenting with emerging psychopathology or academic weaknesses do not benefit from these policies as much as others, and should receive additional, targeted services.

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