Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States

The United States is often hailed as the “land of opportunity,” a society in which a child’s chances of success depend little on his family background. Is this reputation warranted? We show that this question does not have a clear answer because there is substantial variation in intergenerational mobility across areas within the U.S. The U.S. is better described as a collection of societies, some of which are “lands of opportunity” with high rates of mobility across generations, and others in which few children escape poverty.

We characterize intergenerational mobility using information from de-identified federal income tax records, which provide data on the incomes of more than 40 million children and their parents between 1996 and 2012.

Reference Information


Raj Chetty,
Nathaniel Hendren,
Patrick Kline,
Emmanuel Saez
Publication Date: 
June 2014