Examining Intergenerational Economic Mobility

Washington, D.C. – A newly released study from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth finds that opportunity is not equally distributed across the United States and that economic mobility actually differs in critical ways for children born in different regions of the country. The new report, “Patterns of Economic Mobility in the United States—What Does the Most Recent Academic Research Tell Us About U.S. Economic Mobility?,” aims to decipher the latest scholarship on intergenerational economic mobility across the nation.

The authors of the report define economic mobility as movement up and down the income ladder from one generation to the next. They highlight a collection of research that shows economic mobility nationwide has been roughly stagnant in recent decades but there are telling regional differences in economic mobility across the country. The Rust Belt region has a particularly high gap in mobility between the children from low-income and high-income families, while much of the Great Plains and the West have a substantially smaller gap in mobility. Among large commuting zones, the smallest gap in income ranking indicating the highest mobility is in Santa Barbara, California, while Cincinnati, Ohio has the largest gap.

“By summarizing much of the recent literature and data, we hope to show that there are regional lessons to be learned on how to improve opportunity nationally and in areas struggling to provide more equal access to opportunity and mobility,” says Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s senior mathematician Carter Price. “Economic factors such as a high inequality and low wage growth are associated with lower economic mobility and could be suitable targets for policy.”

To address the economic factors related to low mobility, the authors recommend examining both short and long-term policy solutions, including:

  • Policy levers aimed at reducing economic inequality, raising income growth, and reducing unemployment.
  • Policies targeting social factors associated with lower mobility, which could include efforts to reduce segregation by race and income.
  • Policies to support families such as paid parental leave laws.

“What this collection of scholarship shows us is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for improving economic mobility,” says Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s junior economist Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez. “To effectively increase access to opportunity, we need to further examine both national and regional economic, social, and family trends as well as investigate the causal mechanisms that drive such relationships and ultimately impact economic mobility and growth.”

The new report from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth is the first in a collection of papers examining whether and how economic inequality and growth are linked.



The Washington Center for Equitable Growth is a research and grantmaking organization founded to accelerate cutting-edge analysis into whether and how structural changes in the U.S. economy, particularly related to economic inequality, affect economic growth. To learn more, please visit: www.equitablegrowth.org. Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/equitablegrowth.


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