The life course perspective in social inequalities in health research has resulted in an increased interest in status attainment processes. Adult status is commonly measured as occupational class, income level or educational attainment, and the latter was applied in this study. The study objective was to estimate the relative contribution of parental and early individual characteristics on educational attainment. The study population comprised all males born in Norway in 1967–1971, and alive at age 28 years (n=160,914). Data on social and biological variables were compiled from birth onwards in several national registers. Information on educational attainment at age 28 years was derived from Statistics Norway. Mean years of education was 12.62 years (SD 2.24). Educational attainment was strongly associated with general ability score at age 18 years and parental educational attainment. Parental income had more limited influence; all other early factors had only marginal effect. Path analysis results suggest that the direct effect of general ability was of the same size as the combined direct and indirect effect of parental education and income. The results suggest that status attainment in this young male population is mainly dependent on general ability and parental education level.