Nationwide evidence that education disrupts the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage
Despite overall improvements in health and living standards in the Western world, health and social disadvantages persist across generations. Using nationwide administrative databases linked for 2.1 million Danish citizens, we leveraged a three-generation approach to test whether multiple, different health and social disadvantages—poor physical health, poor mental health, social welfare dependency, criminal offending, and Child Protective Services involvement—were transmitted within families and whether education disrupted these statistical associations. Health and social disadvantages concentrated, aggregated, and accumulated within a small, high-need segment of families: Adults who relied disproportionately on multiple, different health and social services tended to have parents who relied disproportionately on multiple, different health and social services and tended to have children who evidenced risk for disadvantage at an early age, through appearance in protective services records. Intra- and intergenerational comparisons were consistent with the possibility that education disrupted this transmission. Within families, siblings who obtained more education were at a reduced risk for later-life disadvantage compared with their cosiblings who obtained less education, despite shared family background. Supporting the education potential of the most vulnerable citizens might mitigate the multigenerational transmission of multiple disadvantages and reduce health and social disparities.