Pathways to Economic Mobility

Key Indicators

Pathways to Economic Mobility


The Economic Mobility Project's 2008 report explored some of the key factors that affect the likelihood that a person will move up or down the economic ladder over time. The report revealed that certain factors of American life—such as educational attainment, family structure, and savings—are strong determinants of economic mobility. The report categorized these indicators by social, human and financial capital.

The assumption that anyone can get ahead based on capability and effort is central to the idea of the American Dream. This report provided an overview of the factors that seem to most affect the likelihood that someone will move up, or down, the economic ladder in the United States. It built on other reports of the Economic Mobility Project that have identified significant patterns of mobility and that some Americans are less mobile and even more downwardly mobile than others.

Key Findings

  • The family structure in which he or she grows up can be a major determinant of the social and financial resources available to a child. 
  • Parental characteristics such as parenting skills and education and parental similarity are important influences on economic mobility. 
  • The community where one lives—and the social networks that come with that community—can have both a positive and negative influence on one's economic mobility. 
  • In today's economy, a child's educational attainment strongly influences his or her earnings, and is a strong determinant of economic mobility. 
  • The likelihood that individuals will earn a college degree depends on a number of factors related to human capital, most notably their parents' educational level and family income, their race, and sex.  
  • Children of college graduates are much more likely to earn a college degree than children of high school graduates.