Social mobility in America has remained stubbornly flat for more than 40 years, according to aposted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but “the consequences of the birth lottery have never been greater.”
Researchers led by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty tracked the correlation between parents’ incomes and the likelihood the child will earn a better living than his or her parents for each birth cohort from 1971 to 1993. (For generations not yet in the workforce, researchers looked at college attendance, which prior studies have shown to be associated with higher incomes later.)
A child born into the poorest 20 percent of families has a little less than a 1-in-10 chance of making it to the top 20 percent of earners by age 26, and that rate of social mobility has remained practically unchanged since the 1970s. Moreover, since the 1980s, children born into families earning the lowest 20 percent of income have stayed about 69 percentage points to 75 percentage points less likely to go to college than peers born into the wealthiest 20 percent, the study found.
A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as Equity