The role of family, income, geography, and education in upward mobility

by Ryan Streeter on March 23, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Upward mobility isn’t what we would hope in America. You have a greater chance of moving from low- to middle-class in many other developed countries than here, which is a difficult data point to swallow for those of us who have experienced America first-hand as the land of opportunity.

There have a been a number of insightful studies on this topic in the past few years, and Aparna Mathur and Abby McCloskey at AEI have done us a nice service by reviewing a number of them in this new report (PDF).

Among the factors they summarize from the studies, these are the most powerful in helping or inhibiting a young person’s chances of successfully moving up the ladder of opportunity in America:

  1. Parents’ income
  2. Where you live
  3. Family structure
  4. Educational options

The report also includes policy ideas from AEI scholars on how to address the lack of opportunity in America for lower-income people. As the report points out, all of the money we spend on social welfare and the safety net does not help people get ahead, however much it spares them hardship.