Low Social Mobility and High Income Inequality In the US

In Economy, Education On
- Updated

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Now, this isn’t the way we like to see ourselves. In fact, there’s a curious disconnect between reality and perception: Americans are much more likely than Europeans to imagine that their society is marked by high social mobility, when the reality is that we have considerably less of it than they do.

[Paul Krugman did explanatory journalism before it was cool, moving from a career as a world-class economist to writing hard-hitting opinion columns. For an even deeper look at what’s on his mind, sign up for his weekly newsletter.]

Much of this appears to reflect systematic misinformation. In some places hereditary members of the elite boast about their lineage, but in America they pretend that they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. For example, large numbers of Americans apparently believe that Donald Trump is a self-made man.

In any case, America’s exceptionally low social mobility is distinct from its exceptionally high income inequality, although these are almost surely related. Among advanced countries, there is a strong negative correlation between inequality and mobility, sometimes referred to as the “Great Gatsby curve.” This makes sense. After all, huge disparities in parents’ income tend to translate into large disparities in children’s opportunities.

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