First-Generation College Graduates See Fewer Economic Benefits than Their Peers

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A new analysis from the Pew Research Center finds that, despite earning a degree, first-generation graduates receive fewer financial benefits compared to their peers who have college-educated parents.

The analysis shows that graduates who identify as the head of household, have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and have a parent who has at least earned a bachelor’s degree have higher incomes and greater wealth than students who are the first in their family to attend college.

Disparities among first-generation and second-generation individuals extend to college completion rates as well. Nearly 70 percent of adults aged 22 to 59 who have a parent with a college degree have completed a bachelor’s degree, while only 26 percent of individuals without a college-educated parent have completed a bachelor’s degree.

Once a degree is completed, most first-generation graduates still do not obtain the same level of income or wealth as their peers. The median household income for a first-generation graduate is $99,600 compared with $135,800 for a second-generation graduate.  First-generation individuals also have a median household wealth of $152,000, while second-generation individuals’ median household wealth is $244,500.

Second-generation graduates benefit from their parents’ wealth by having to incur less debt to pay for college and are more likely to receive an inheritance. However, the economic benefits of having college-educated parents do not apply to most individuals who do not obtain a bachelor’s degree themselves, the analysis finds.