This article was originally published in Discourse Magazine.
When it comes to social mobility, are the kids really alright? Maybe so.
In the academic literature, social mobility measures a person’s opportunity to earn more income than their parents at a similar age. Usually, studies compare the income of an individual between 32 and 40 years old with the income of their parents at that same age. Other studies use a measurement called intergenerational income elasticity to measure how much a child’s income is dependent on the parent’s income—a higher elasticity indicates more dependence and less mobility. And those studies aren’t painting a pretty picture. Recent studies on intergenerational mobility show that there’s been a steady decline since the 1970s. More than nine in 10 people born in the 1940s outearned their parents as adults; only about half of people born in the 1980s could say the same. As a result, some researchers have determined that the American Dream is fading. While other studies conclude that the situation is somewhat less dire, it’s clear that by the academic literature’s definition of social mobility, the trends aren’t very promising.