Capital conversion and accumulation: A social portrait of legacies at an elite university

Nathan D. Martin, Kenneth I. Spenner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Legacies, or students with a family member who graduated from the same college or university, have been the source of much debate. We add to the existing literature by providing a detailed empirical portrait of legacies at a private, selective university across the college years. We examine how legacies are distinctive in their admissions profiles, within-college achievement and post-graduation plans, using data from a panel study of students attending Duke University. We find that legacies enter college with an abundance of economic, cultural and social capital, but also have lower levels of human capital compared to other students with college graduate parents. Due to this human capital deficit, legacies have lower grades in the first college year, but show little academic underperformance in subsequent semesters. Additionally, legacies are less likely to plan to be a medical doctor or engineer and have somewhat lower degree aspirations than other students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-648
Number of pages26
JournalResearch in Higher Education
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Academic achievement
  • College admissions
  • Cultural capital
  • Human capital
  • Postsecondary education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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