Report

Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations

  • July 10, 2012

Pursuing the American Dream uses the most current data to measure mobility by family income, wealth, and personal earnings to reveal how closely tied a person's place on the economic ladder is to that of his or her parents'. While a majority of Americans exceed their parents' family income and wealth, the extent of their absolute mobility gains are not always enough to move them to a different rung of the economic ladder. Measuring both absolute and relative mobility, some of the highlights of the research include:

  • Eighty-four percent of Americans have higher family incomes than their parents did.
  • However, those born at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to stay there as adults. Over 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain stuck there adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle.
  • African Americans are still less likely to exceed their parents' income than are whites and they are more likely to be stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder across a generation.
  • A four-year college degree promotes upward mobility from the bottom and prevents downward mobility from the middle and the top.