Dr. Tak Wing Chan of the department of sociology at the University of Oxford and Dr. Vikki Boliver of the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University, both in England, said the social advantages and disadvantages transmitted across generations are a lot more durable and persistent than previously thought.
The study, published in the online early edition of the American Sociological Review, found a statistically significant association between grandparents' and grandchildren's class positions, even after the parents' education, income and wealth were taken into account.
The researchers analyzed data collected in three nationally representative surveys of more than 17,000 Britons born in 1946, 1958 and 1970, respectively.
The researchers found among men with both parents and grandparents in the professional-managerial class, 80 percent stayed in those advantaged positions.
For women, this "grandparents effect" was less strong at 66 percent.
However, when grandparents were from a high social class and the parents experienced downward social mobility, the grandparents effect appeared stronger, pushing the grandchild back up the social ladder.
Grandparents acted as a "safety net" as though grandparents' class background corrected the mobility mistake made by the parents, the researchers said.
Beyond the influence of the grandchildren's formative years, wealthy grandparents might make financial transfers to help pay for their grandchildren's education, and well-connected grandparents might use their network to help secure jobs for their grandchildren, the researchers suggested.