Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Social mobility

Andrew Hacker reviews several new books on class and inequality in the NY Review of Books. The table below summarizes both upward and downward mobility from a recent study. I've seen claims that social mobility in the US has decreased, and is now less than in some european countries (particularly Scandinavian countries in which university education is free). Nevertheless, you can see that about a third of kids from the top or bottom quintile will jump by two or more quintiles in their lives (the poor kids moving up and the rich kids falling from affluence). Furthermore, the distributions are relatively symmetric.

(BTW, the article by physicist Jeremy Bernstein on nuclear weapons and intelligence failures in the same issue is very good.)


PS said...

It would be nice to see what areas exactly allowed poor kids to jump up. I bet it's basketball and football...

steve said...

Well, you can see that 7% of lowest quintile kids make it into the top quintile. There is no way 7% of poor kids make it into professional sports, so most of them must be in the mainstream economy.

PS said...

Do you really believ that 7% of poor families children make it up to top level by economy?
It's almost 1 in every 10 kids. How many kids you know like this?

On the other side, a professional athlete usually takes care of his entire family. And you have a steady inflow of these atheletes every year.

steve said...

7% make it to the *top quintile*. That is not the very rich, probably just over $100k in family income. If you have two wage earners, you just need reasonably good jobs (fireman, school teacher, middle manager, etc.), nothing spectacular.

If you are somewhat smart and motivated, you can, e.g., join the military, get a decent education, work hard, and get there, even if you start in the bottom quintile.

You are right that one athlete might lift another 10 people out of poverty. But I think much fewer than .1 percent of kids can become professional athletes, so even then the effect is negligible relative to 7%.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of the bottom quintile to top quintile ones are from immigrant families. I would guess that accounts for more than basketball.

PS said...

Anonymous makes a good point: more details about poor quintile making it way up is needed.

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