Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


May, David C.

Committee Member

Dunaway, R. Gregory

Committee Member

Johnson, Kecia

Committee Member

Haynes, Stacy H.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Sociology


In the past 40 years, the U.S. has experienced its largest expansion of incarceration. Sociological research has begun to examine the effects the dramatics rises in incarceration in the United States on other areas of social life. One area of research has examined the effects of parental incarceration on children. In this study, I examined the effects of parental incarceration on intragenerational and intergenerational socioeconomic mobility using data from nationally-representative sample of respondents who had been studied from adolescence to young adulthood. Specifically, I examined the effects of parental incarceration prevalence and duration on three measures of socioeconomic status—household income, occupational prestige, and educational attainment—at young adulthood while controlling for measures of parental socioeconomic status and socioeconomic status during adolescence. I found that the presence of parental incarceration, especially when it occurred before adulthood, exerted significant negative effects on all three measures of socioeconomic status at young adulthood. These effects were rather consistent throughout my results. The duration of parental incarceration among those who experienced it exerted few significant effects on socioeconomic status. I also found that the main mechanisms through which parental incarceration affected social mobility were early economic disadvantage and criminal justice contact. Parental incarceration had a significant negative effect on household income during adolescence. It also had a significant positive effect on arrests during adulthood. Low levels of household income during adolescence and high levels of arrests during adulthood, then, were associated with diminished socioeconomic life chances. Some of the effects of parental incarceration on social mobility were moderated by gender, race, and other demographic and contextual control variables, but the nature of those moderating effects was not consistent throughout my analyses. These findings indicate parental incarceration helps set in motion a process of cumulative disadvantage and a process of the intergenerational transmission of offending (and the negative social and economic consequences that come with it). The effects of both of these processes are that children of parents who’ve been “locked up” are then “locked out” of economic opportunities. This process may help form and reinforce social class boundaries.