Upward Intergenerational Economic Mobility in the United States


quick summary

This report introduces two measures of upward economic mobility. First, it captures not only whether children surpass their parents income position when compared to their peers, but also the magnitude of their movement up the income ladder. Second, the report explores factors that may account for differences in rates of upward economic mobility between black and white families. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and measuring family income average over several years, the report discusses the following key findings:

  • The majority of individuals, 71 percent, whose parents were in the bottom half of the income distribution actually improved their rankings relative to their parents. However, the amount of their movement was not large.
  • Men experience sharply higher rates of upward economic mobility than women.
  • Blacks experience dramatically less upward economic mobility than whites.
  • Rates of upward economic mobility are highest for white men, followed by white women, black men and, finally, black women.
  • Measures of human capital during adolescence, particularly test scores, could explain the entire black-white upward economic mobility gap.