Social Mobility

  • Gary Solon
  • Raj Chetty
  • Florencia Torche

Leaders: Raj Chetty, Gary Solon, Florencia Torche

The purpose of the Social Mobility RG is to develop and exploit new administrative sources for measuring mobility and the effects of policy on mobility out of poverty. This research group is doing so by (a) providing comprehensive analyses of intergenerational mobility based on linked administrative data from U.S. tax returns, W-2s, and other sources, and (b) developing a new infrastructure for monitoring social mobility, dubbed the American Opportunity Study, that is based on linking census and other administrative data. Here’s a sampling of projects:

Small place estimates: The Equal Opportunity Project, led by Raj Chetty, uses tax return data to monitor opportunities for mobility out of poverty. In one of the new lines of analysis coming out of this project, the first round of results at the level of “commuting zones” are being redone at a more detailed level (e.g., census block level), thus allowing for even better inferences about the effects of place.

The American Opportunity Study: This research group is also collaborating with the Census Bureau to develop a new infrastructure for monitoring mobility that treats linked decennial census data as the spine on which other administrative data are hung.

Colleges and rising income inequality: Where do poor children go to attend college? The “Mobility Report Card” will convey the joint distribution of parent and student incomes for every Title IV institution in the United States.

The “absolute mobility” of the poor: What fraction of poor children grow up to earn more than their parents? Have rates of absolute upward mobility changed over time? This project develops a new method of estimating rates of absolute mobility for the 1940-1984 birth cohorts.

Intergenerational elasticities in the U.S.: There remains some debate about the size of intergenerational elasticities in the U.S. A rarely-used sample of 1987 tax data provides new evidence on U.S. elasticities.

Mobility - CPI Research

Title Author Media
Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan

Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility

Author: Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan
Publisher: NBER
Date: 07/2017

We characterize intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using data for over 30 million college students from 1999-2013. We document four results. First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile. Second, children from low- and high-income families have similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that low-income students are not mismatched at selective colleges. Third, rates of upward mobility – the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – differ substantially across colleges because low-income access varies significantly across colleges with similar earnings outcomes. Rates of bottom-to-top quintile mobility are highest at certain mid-tier public universities, such as the City University of New York and California State colleges. Rates of upper-tail (bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility are highest at elite colleges, such as Ivy League universities. Fourth, the fraction of students from low-income families did not change substantially between 2000-2011 at elite private colleges, but fell sharply at colleges with the highest rates of bottom-to-top-quintile mobility. Although our descriptive analysis does not identify colleges' causal effects on students' outcomes, the publicly available statistics constructed here highlight colleges that deserve further study as potential engines of upward mobility.

State of the Union 2017: Intergenerational Mobility Florencia Torche

State of the Union 2017: Intergenerational Mobility

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 06/2017

The persistence of affluence is stronger for whites, while the persistence of poverty is stronger for blacks. However, beginning with generations that came of age in the mid-1960s, the white-black gap in the chance of escaping poverty has closed significantly.

Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan

Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility

Author: Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan
Publisher:
Date: 01/2017

We characterize rates of intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using administrative data for over 30 million college students from 1999-2013. We document four results. First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile. Second, children from low and high-income families have very similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that there is little mismatch of low socioeconomic status students to selective colleges. Third, upward mobility rates – measured, for instance, by the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – vary substantially across colleges. Much of this variation is driven by differences in the fraction of students from low-income families across colleges whose students have similar earnings outcomes. Mid-tier public universities such as the City University of New York and California State colleges tend to have the highest rates of bottom-to-top quintile mobility. Elite private colleges, such as Ivy League universities, have the highest rates of upper-tail (e.g., bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility. Finally, between the 1980 and 1991 birth cohorts, the fraction of students from bottom-quintile families fell sharply at colleges with high rates of bottom-to-topquintile mobility, and did not change substantially at elite private institutions. Although our descriptive analysis does not identify colleges’ causal effects on students’ outcomes, the publicly available statistics constructed here highlight colleges that deserve further study as potential engines of upward mobility.

The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940 Raj Chetty, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, Jimmy Narang

The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940

Author: Raj Chetty, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, Jimmy Narang
Publisher:
Date: 12/2016

We estimate rates of “absolute income mobility” – the fraction of children who earn more than their parents – by combining historical data from Census and CPS cross-sections with panel data for recent birth cohorts from de-identified tax records. Our approach overcomes the key data limitation that has hampered research on trends in intergenerational mobility: the lack of large panel datasets linking parents and children. We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. The result that absolute mobility has fallen sharply over the past half century is robust to the choice of price deflator, the definition of income, and accounting for taxes and transfers. In counterfactual simulations, we find that increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. In contrast, changing the distribution of growth across income groups to the more equal distribution experienced by the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.

Opportunity without Equity: Educational Inequality and Constitutional Protections in Egypt Michelle Jackson, Elizabeth Buckner

Opportunity without Equity: Educational Inequality and Constitutional Protections in Egypt

Author: Michelle Jackson, Elizabeth Buckner
Publisher: Sociological Science
Date: 08/2016

The claim that the law can be an inequality-reducing weapon is a staple of legal and political discourse. Although it is hard to dispute that legal provisions sometimes work to reduce inequality, we argue that, at least in the domain of equal opportunity in education, the pattern of these effects can be more perverse than has typically been appreciated. Positive laws implemented in the name of promoting equality of opportunity may yield only a narrowly formal equality, with the goal of substantive equality undermined because a high-profile reform will often expose the pathway to educational success. The pathway, once exposed, can then be navigated and successfully subverted by the socioeconomically advantaged. We illustrate such pitfalls of a positive legal approach by examining educational inequality in Egypt, a country with long-standing constitutional protections for equality of opportunity in education. Using data recently collected from a cohort of young people, we show that despite the institutional commitments to equality of opportunity present in Egypt, privileged families have a range of options for subverting the aims of positive legal provisions. We argue that the pattern of educational inequality in Egypt is distinctive relative to countries without similar legal protections.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

Miles Corak's picture Miles Corak Professor of Economics; Senior scholar of James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality
City University of New York
Pablo Mitnik's picture Pablo Mitnik Social Science Research Scholar, Center on Poverty and Inequality
Stanford University
Robert M. Hauser Vilas Research Professor of Sociology, Director, Center for Demography of Health and Aging
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Hiroshi Ishida's picture Hiroshi Ishida Professor of Sociology, Institute of Social Sciences
University of Tokyo
Ineke Maas's picture Ineke Maas Associate Professor of Sociology; Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, VU University Amsterdam
Utrecht University

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Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
Social Mobility in a High-Inequality Regime Pablo A. Mitnik, Erin Cumberworth, David B. Grusky

Social Mobility in a High-Inequality Regime

Author: Pablo A. Mitnik, Erin Cumberworth, David B. Grusky
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2016

Are opportunities to get ahead growing more unequal? Using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), it is possible to provide evidence on this question, evidence that is suggestive but must be carefully interpreted because the samples are relatively small. The GSS data reveal an increase in class reproduction among young and middle-age adults that is driven by the growing advantage of the professional-managerial class relative to all other classes. This trend is largely consistent with our new “top-income hypothesis” that posits that rising income inequality registers its effects on social mobility almost exclusively in the divide between the professional-managerial class and all other classes. We develop a two-factor model in which the foregoing effects of the inequality takeoff are set against the countervailing effects of the expansion of mass education. As the model implies, the trend in intergenerational association takes on a convex shape in the younger age groups, with the change appearing to accelerate in the most recent decade. These results suggest that the takeoff in income inequality may account in part for the decline in mobility.

Changing Family Structures Play a Major Role in the Fight Against Poverty Lawrence Aber, Stuart Butler, Sheldon Danziger, Robert Doar, David T. Ellwood, Judith M. Gueron, Jonathan Haidt, Ron Haskins, Harry J. Holzer, Kay Hymowitz, Lawrence Mead, Ronald Mincy, Richard V. Reeves, Michael R. Strain, Jane Waldfogel

Changing Family Structures Play a Major Role in the Fight Against Poverty

Author: Lawrence Aber, Stuart Butler, Sheldon Danziger, Robert Doar, David T. Ellwood, Judith M. Gueron, Jonathan Haidt, Ron Haskins, Harry J. Holzer, Kay Hymowitz, Lawrence Mead, Ronald Mincy, Richard V. Reeves, Michael R. Strain, Jane Waldfogel
Publisher: AEI-Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity
Date: 12/2015

Improving the family environment in which children are raised is vital to any serious effort to reduce poverty and expand opportunity.  Twenty-five years of extensive and rigorous research has shown that children raised in stable, secure families have a better chance to flourish.

The family structure in and of itself is an important factor in reducing poverty: children raised in single-parent families are nearly five times as likely to be poor as those in married-couple families.

In Chapter 3 of a new report from the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity, the Working Group recommends policies that:

  1. Promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources;
  2. Promote delayed, responsible childbearing;
  3. Promote parenting skills and practices, especially among low-income parents; and
  4. Promote skill development, family involvement, and employment among young men as well as women.
Health Selection into Neighborhoods Among Families in the Moving to Opportunity Program Mariana C. Arcaya, Corina Graif, Mary C. Waters, S. V. Subramanian

Health Selection into Neighborhoods Among Families in the Moving to Opportunity Program

Author: Mariana C. Arcaya, Corina Graif, Mary C. Waters, S. V. Subramanian
Publisher: American Journal of Epidemiology
Date: 03/2015

Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing was a randomized experiment that moved very low-income US families from high-poverty neighborhoods to low-poverty neighborhoods starting in the early 1990s. We modeled report of a child's baseline health problem as a predictor of neighborhood outcomes for households randomly assigned to move from high- to low-poverty neighborhoods. We explored associations between baseline health problems and odds of moving with the program upon randomization (1994–1997), neighborhood poverty rate at follow-up (2002), and total time spent in affluent neighborhoods and duration-weighted poverty. Among 1,550 households randomized to low-poverty neighborhoods, a smaller share of households reporting baseline child health problems (P = 0.004) took up the intervention (38%) than those not reporting a health problem (50%). In weighted and covariate-adjusted models, a child health problem predicted nearly 40% lower odds of complying with the experimental condition (odds ratio = 0.62, 95% confidence interval: 0.42, 0.91; P = 0.015). Among compliers, a baseline child health problem predicted 2.5 percentage points' higher neighborhood poverty at take-up (95% confidence interval: 0.90, 4.07; P = 0.002). We conclude that child health problems in a household prior to randomization predicted lower likelihood of using the program voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood within the experiment's low-poverty treatment arm and predicted selection into poorer neighborhoods among experimental compliers. Child morbidity may constrain families attempting to improve their life circumstances.

The Counter-Cyclical Character of the Elite Shamus Khan

The Counter-Cyclical Character of the Elite

Author: Shamus Khan
Publisher: Research in the Sociology of Organizations
Date: 02/2015

This paper begins by outlining the basic attitudinal differences between the elite and the rest of society. Understanding these divergent views does not require resorting to arguments that reply upon error, ignorance, manipulation, or differences in individual character. Instead, both elites and others are correct in their understanding of these processes because they overgeneralize from their own experience. The major proposition of this paper is that if we compare the economic conditions of the average American and to that of the elite, we find that they are, in important ways, the inverse of one another. During times when Americans as a whole were experiencing economic advancement and mobility, elites were comparatively stagnant. And today, as most Americans are locked in place, elites observe tremendous mobility. The counter-cyclical character of the elite has important implications for our understanding of elite culture, and elite response to inequality and redistribution.

The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, Linda Olson

The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood

Author: Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, Linda Olson
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 06/2014

West Baltimore stands out in the popular imagination as the quintessential “inner city”—gritty, run-down, and marred by drugs and gang violence. Indeed, with the collapse of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s, the area experienced a rapid onset of poverty and high unemployment, with few public resources available to alleviate economic distress. But in stark contrast to the image of a perpetual “urban underclass” depicted in television by shows like The Wire, sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson present a more nuanced portrait of Baltimore’s inner city residents that employs important new research on the significance of early-life opportunities available to low-income populations. The Long Shadow focuses on children who grew up in west Baltimore neighborhoods and others like them throughout the city, tracing how their early lives in the inner city have affected their long-term well-being. Although research for this book was conducted in Baltimore, that city’s struggles with deindustrialization, white flight, and concentrated poverty were characteristic of most East Coast and Midwest manufacturing cities. The experience of Baltimore’s children who came of age during this era is mirrored in the experiences of urban children across the nation.