Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up from the American Dream

Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up from the American Dream

The idea that children will grow up to be better off than their parents is a central component of the American Dream, and sustains American optimism. However, Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking up from the American Dream finds that a middle-class upbringing does not guarantee the same status over the course of a lifetime. A third of Americans raised in the middle class—defined here as those between the 30th and 70th percentiles of the income distribution—fall out of the middle as adults. The data also show differences in rates of downward mobility from the middle based on both family background and personal characteristics.

The research for this report was undertaken to answer critical questions about what accounts for downward mobility from the middle class, and how those factors influence people differently depending on their race and gender. Four main findings were identified:

  • Marital status, education, test scores and drug use have a strong influence on whether a middle-class child loses economic ground as an adult
  • Race is a factor in who falls out of the middle class, but only for men
  • There is a gender gap in downward mobility from the middle, but it is driven entirely by a disparity between white men and white women
  • Differences in average test scores are the most important observable racial difference in accounting for the large downward mobility gap between black men and white men, but none of the factors examined in the report sheds light on the gap between white men and white women

National Homeownership Month

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.