intergenerational mobility in the US

The distribution of income in the United States is more unequal than in other developed countries. Moreover, those born into poverty are less apt to climb out of it in the US than in other high-income countries. Numerous researchers have confirmed this, using data for the country as a whole. A team of four economists from Harvard and the University of California-Berkeley have shown, however, that social mobility is far from uniform in the US. In fact, intergeneration mobility varies widely across US cities.

The US is supposed to be the land of opportunity. This column presents evidence that is better thought of as the ‘lands of opportunity’. Economic mobility varies dramatically across US cities. Some have upward-income mobility comparable to the most mobile countries in the world. Others have rates below that of any developed country. These geographical differences are correlated with five factors: segregation, income inequality, local school quality, social capital, and family structure.

Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez, “Where is the land of opportunity? Intergenerational mobility in the US“, Vox, 4 February 2014.

The full 94-page paper, on which this column is based, is available as an NBER Working Paper (No. 19843, January 2014). Here is an ungated link to the paper.


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