Planet Money’s Quoctrung Bui had a wonderful post yesterday looking at the link between household income during childhood and occupation during adulthood. It was apparently prompted by a debate over the question: Who had richer parents, doctors or artists?

The correct answer is artists, though just barely. The median designer, musician or artist tend grew up in a household earning $65,000 to $69,999, whereas the comparable range for doctors, dentists and surgeons is $55,000 to $59,999.

This probably makes sense, since having a rich benefactor — parental or otherwise — makes the low-cash-flow artistic lifestyle more sustainable. Plus, higher-earning parents might be more supportive of having their children follow (not especially lucrative) dreams. This quote, from a letter written by John Adams, comes to mind:

I study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

Here’s the Jack Donaghy version of that quote:

We are an immigrant nation. The first generation works their fingers to the bone making things; the next generation goes to college and innovates new ideas. The third generation snowboards and takes improv classes.

Below are the full numbers crunched in the Planet Money post. Note that there are plenty of high-earning jobs that do tend to be occupied by people who grew up in wealthier families (e.g., lawyers, financial analysts and scientists).

Job As Adult Household Income During Childhood
  • Farming, Fishing, And Forestry
less than $35,000
  • Child Care Workers, Home Care Workers, etc.
  • Food Preparation
  • Janitors, Maids, etc.
  • Servers, Waiters, etc.
$35,000- 39,999
  • Construction
  • Truck Drivers, Heavy Equipment Operators, etc.
  • Healthcare Technicians, Assistants, And Aides
  • Health Care Technical and Support
  • Machinists, Welders, etc.
  • Police Officers, Firefighters, Security, etc.
  • Mechanics, Repairmen, etc.
  • Human Resources, Management Analysts, etc.
  • Mechanics, Repairmen, etc.
  • Education Training and Librarians
  • Sales
  • Nurses
  • Counselors, Social, And Religious Workers
  • Clerks
  • Secretaries And Administrative Assistants
  • Doctors, Dentists, And Surgeons
  • Human Resources, Management Analysts, etc.
  • Teachers
  • Accountants And Auditors
  • Computer Programmers And Administrators
  • Media and Communications Workers
  • Designers, Musicians, Artists, etc
  • Chief Executives
  • General Managers
  • Engineers, Architects, And Surveyors
  • Physical, Life, And Social Scientists
  • Financial Analysts, Advisors
  • Lawyers and Judges

Note: Household income is the median family income for each job group. Income is adjusted for inflation and shown in 2010 dollars. The number of job groups listed is not comprehensive due to sample size and time constraints. Source: National Longitudinal Study/Bureau Of Labor Statistics. Credit: Quoctrung Bui, NPR.