I am a professor. Anecdotally, about half the people I know in academia have at least one parent who was or is a professor. (I was not born to any professors, for the record.) And then you see families like this.

I'm curious to what extent my anecdotal impressions align with overall trends. Is there data out there about which percentage of professors are children of professors, how being the child of a professor might influence your chances of getting tenure, and how such trends within academia compare to those for other professions (e.g., how many doctors are the children of doctors? do they earn more? etc.).

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    Comments deleted. Please use comments only for their intended purpose and do not use them for speculations around the subject, half answers, and particularly accusations against entire groups.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 24, 2018 at 7:56

2 Answers 2


I've noticed this too. There is a longstanding literature (mostly in sociology) about social mobility that looks at parents' and children's occupations. Beller and Hout (2006) report that father-to-son occupation correlation was about 0.30 to 0.40, and Piketty (2000) gives an overview of intergenerational mobility for a handbook chapter.

Getting closer to your question, Torche (2011) finds that in the U.S. there is a "U-shaped pattern" of occupational (and other status) similarity, when child education is on the x-axis. For those with just bachelor's degree, their outcomes are barely correlated with their parents', but people with advanced degrees or low education are much more likely to be similar to their parents.

Through Google Scholar, I did not quickly find related literature about whether academic careers stand out from this trend in some way. However, I believe academia would have even higher intergenerational replication, for the following reasons.

  • First, academic jobs require high levels of formal education, and education is one resource that is often transmitted across generations (cf. Roksa and Potter, 2011). (Professors could especially set up their kids for success while advising on what kind of college to attend, or whether a university offers good undergraduate research opportunities.)

  • Further, academia has more or less an apprenticeship model and has many unwritten rules to navigate; growing up with that as the "family business" should help one navigate that career path.

  • Finally, while there are lots of doctors and lawyers on TV, and those are professional careers many are familiar with, being a professor is a bit more of a niche career, and it may be harder for people from non-professor families to even think of it early on.

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    Probably true. If there were more flashy professors in popular culture (like Indiana Jones or Robert Langdon) then maybe more kids would see that as a desirable career. Not just (kid's choice) astronaut and fireman or (parent's choice) doctor and lawyer.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 23, 2018 at 21:00
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    @GEdgar A kid deciding to become professor because of Indiana Jones would be really disappointed...
    – user9646
    Mar 24, 2018 at 9:27
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    @NajibIdrissi I wanted to be a detective when I was a kid... and research can be surprisingly like that! ;) Mar 24, 2018 at 16:47
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    @GEdgar Not as much as I a friend that I had who wanted to get a PhD to pick up new partners...
    – BPL
    Oct 8, 2019 at 18:06
  • What about the Professor from Gilligan's Island? Dec 2, 2022 at 17:12

The New York Times have an interactive analysis based on the results of the General Social Survey you can use to query this data. Most jobs exhibit some amount of "heritability", so the observation that many professors are children of professors is not particularly notable. Professors have slightly higher heritability than average, but far less heritable than some other professions requiring advanced degrees:

  1. "Professors and Lecturers": 5x more likely to have this job if you have a parent that had it than not. NYT says this is "higher than average"
  2. "Elementary and middle school teachers": 3x, which NYT says is "about average"
  3. "Doctor" (presumably medical): 25x
  4. "Lawyer": 18x

Note that this data contradicts some of the speculation in the other answer. For this reason, I will refrain from speculating on explanations for the relative heritability of these professions without further evidence.

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